UPDATE: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says that thousands have died. In a news conference, he announced that, “We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water.” He thinks that there are also people lying dead in attics across the city. The actual number of dead will not be known until the water can be pumped out of the drowned city.

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has had to rely on a drastically cut National Guard force, since so many of these part time soldiers are now fighting full time in Iraq. About 7,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen are taking part in disaster relief in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, but the Pentagon has sent 35% of Louisiana’s National Guard troops and 40% percent of Mississippi’s to Iraq?a total of about 6,000 troops, as well as a large number of Guard helicopters. Pilots flyingoperations in New Orleans yesterday had to choose between dropping 3,000-pound sandbags into the 17th Street Canal breach or carry out rescue missions. Thechoice was made to do the rescues, with the result that theflooding has become vastly worse in the past 24 hours. MayorRay Nagin was outraged at what he described as a lack ofco-ordination, and the inability of available resources toboth rescue people and dam the broken levees.

Without Iraq, there would be nearly twice as many guardsmen on the ground, and much more equipment, including helicopters.

New Orleans is now flooded, with sewage and animal carcasses floating in the water. Sanitary conditions are terrible in the Superdome, and it will have to be evacuatedas well. Earlier plans called for plugging the 200 yard breach in the 17th Street canal, but this couldn’t be accomplished before waters from Lake Pontchartrain spilled into downtown New Orleans. After the collapse of this levee, 80% of the city became flooded with water up to 20 feet deep.

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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