Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Times-Picayune on the Superdome and Convention Center

Stop what you're doing and read the full text of this Times-Picayune story about rumors and urban legends associated with the Superdome and Convention Center. Excerpts to follow when I get back from work tonight. Thanks to Cinerati for the link.

Of the many books, documentaries, articles, and dissertations that will emerge detailing the events surrounding Katrina and Rita, I am sure there will be some that adequately capture the role of the Times-Picayune. I hope they (the T-P, that is) aren't forgotten at Pulitzer time.

After-work Update: Excerpts --

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members" killing and raping people inside the Dome. Unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies, "we couldn't count."

The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. Nagin told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.

NOPD Capt. Jeff Winn's 20-member SWAT team responded on about 10 occasions to calls from the Convention Center, usually after reports of shots being fired. The group found people huddled in the fetal position, lying flat on the ground to avoid bullets or running for the exits. They also heard stories of gang rapes, armed robberies and other violent crimes, but no victims ever came forward while his officers were in the building, he said. "What's true and what's not, we don't really know," he said.

Numerous people told The Times-Picayune that they had witnessed rapes, in particular attacks on two young girls in the Superdome ladies room and the killing of one of them, but police and military officials said they know nothing of such an incident. Soldiers and police did confirm at least one attempted rape of a child. Riley said a man tried to sexually assault a young girl, but was "beaten up" by civilians and apprehended by police. It was unclear if that incident was the one that gained wide currency among evacuees.

Much more substance in the article itself.


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