The evacuation of the city included the populations housed in its institutions, hospitals, rest homes, psychiatric facilities, and jails. Some were transported to facilities in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, but some wound up in the Superdome and the Convention Center.
Flooding, fires, and the absence of law and order soon led to looting and murder. There were many reports of roving gangs and looters taking advantage of the chaos, even in the Superdome. Outside, bodies and sewage floated in the streets.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana ordered emergency occupation of hotel and motel rooms and the commandeering of buses for evacuation efforts. Later she ordered that all of New Orleans, including the Superdome, be evacuated. Buses began transporting refugees 350 miles away to the Astrodome and Reliant Arena in Houston.
The 1,500 personnel of the New Orleans Police Department were ordered to abandon any search and rescue efforts and to restore order to the city. Mayor Nagin called for federal assistance to control widespread looting. He ordered a citywide curfew.
On Thursday Aug. 31, CBS News reported that military helicopters and ambulance vehicles suspended their attempts to evacuate the Superdome when they were fired upon. One pilot reported: "100 people were on the landing pad, and some of them had guns."
The Louisiana National Guard under Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider, which was tasked with the evacuation of the able-bodied from the Superdome, was forced to suspend operations because of the buildings ablaze and fires set outside on the streets preventing the buses from getting close enough to pick up people. Eventually 30,000 troops would be deployed along the Gulf Coast.
World Net Daily on Sept. 17, reported that during the unrest armed gangs from as far away as Memphis, Dallas, and Miami had participated in the civil disturbances following Katrina. Col. David Hunt, a military analyst, was quoted from his appearance on FOX News' "The O'Reilly Factor" program on Sept. 16, saying "It was as bad as the early days in Baghdad." The gangs fought for turf in the deserted, flooded streets of the city for six days, terrorizing those left behind and looting shops, jewelry stores, museums, and banks.
The authorities' reaction to this was widespread and disarming: the confiscation of lawfully owned firearms from Katrina survivors by the military and law enforcement. There is a video circulating on the Internet of local police forcibly taking a gun, her only protection, from a little old lady survivor of Katrina.
If you live in one of the cities that accepted Katrina refugees, you know what followed. While most Katrina survivors were appreciative of their host communities and generally law abiding, the criminal element, mostly gangs, soon returned to their thug lifestyles. New Orleans gangs became involved in violent crime and murders, either as the suspects, victims, or both, in host cities like Houston, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and North Las Vegas.
In Houston, refugees began arriving on Sept. 1, and after 13,000 people filled the Astrodome, evacuees were funneled to other locations.
Eventually Houston would add an additional 150,000 Katrina refugees to its population of 4 million. Attracted to the same low income government housing that they left in New Orleans, many settled into apartment complexes in Houston's high crime southwest side.
After a few months of adjusting to their new environment and after the payment of initial refugee benefits, the New Orleans gangs began to establish themselves in the local drug and prostitution businesses. The first murder involving Katrina refugees occurred on Nov. 29, when a 21-year-old man was shot in the head at a pool hall.
Houston P.D. responded by forming a 10-man gang murder squad on Jan. 15, 2006. By Jan. 27, they had arrested eight Katrina evacuees and had charges against three more. Five more were wanted by Feb. 16.
In Houston, the murder rate between the Katrina refugees' arrival in September and March 2006 jumped up nearly 32 percent from the same period the year before. They were involved in 35 of Houston's 212 murders as victims or suspects.
Houston's schools were also affected, as 5,566 Katrina evacuated students were enrolled. Several altercations have resulted from conflicts between these students and local kids. In a December 2005 brawl at the Southwest Houston High School, 27 people were arrested. This rivalry is a foreshadowing of future conflicts and the possible basis for the formation of future gangs and gang rivalries.
And Houston is not alone. In a Dec. 21, 2007, report, the Las Vegas Sun detailed a possible mass federal eviction of Katrina refugees who had settled in the Buena Vista Springs Government housing in north Las Vegas. Of the 212 families settling there, 144 could not pass criminal history checks.
Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused by the storm were a national disaster, and the rioting and looting following it was a national shame. But all this was magnified by the violent acts of small criminal gangs. Maybe the flooding was inevitable, but the criminal acts of those gangs were preventable.
Recently, I watched the History Channel documentary "The Crumbling of America" and I couldn't help but think about what might happen to another city. The program listed the likely failure of the Sacramento delta Levee system as the most likely national disaster threat in the near future. I hope Sacramento will not be the next New Orleans.