(6:45 PM Update
According to NBC Nightly News report, water for putting out fires is being trucked into New Orleans from Mississippi but "It's not enough," one firefighter told a reporter.)
Yesterday there was an unconfirmed report on a major TV station affiliate that a "large" oil slick had been spotted in the New Orleans floodwaters. In any case there are now many oil slicks in the floodwaters trapped in the city and the slicks would get more concentrated as the waters subside; I have seen footage of reportedly "spontaneous" fires in the waters.
There are also chemical mixtures in the New Orleans floodwaters that even Chemical Ali wouldn't think to mix. So New Orleans police and National Guard on duty there should negotiate truces with the remaining looters rather than shoot at them. This is because gunfire can set off a conflagration that could engulf what's left of New Orleans' standing structures.
Already large fires have broken out in New Orleans; the Saks department store is burning and rows of warehouses along the east bank of the Mississippi are burning. (Reportedly at least some of the fires were started by arson but the reports are unconfirmed.)
Negotiation should be the preference because all that's left among the looters are the desperadoes. The professionals have come and gone. They have pulled out the ATM machines, lifted all the merchandise that can bring the big bucks and trucked it out of New Orleans.
The looters left in the city are out of their mind from booze, dope, desperation and lack of sleep. So it has to be assumed they would not realize or care if they set what's left of the city ablaze. Aside from the fire hazard posed by gunfire, there is the threat that the looters will start fires for distraction if the National Guard closes in on them.
That kind of situation might have already happened. It could be coincidental but no sooner did the military convoys start showing up than a fire broke out at a chemical storage facility and (although I can't confirm this) reportedly a fire broke out at a large commercial oil storage unit.
So the New Orleans police and the National Guard should think twice about adding to an already deadly situation by setting off heavy gunfire exchanges in a city that is now a tinderbox.
Given the fire hazard and with no way to put out major fires in New Orleans at this time, the task at the moment is to disarm the desperadoes. So what's needed are SWAT teams, which are skilled at negotiation. Mayor Nagin should ask mayors of major cities to lend their negotiaton experts.
The teams should go in with megaphones and offer amnesty, shelter and medical help. Also, remind the looters that if they are dead or in jail they can't get in on the bonanza that will come to Katrina victims who were unable to evacuate prior to the storm. In short, the basic idea is to say anything to get the desperadoes to lay down their arms or anything else that could start a fire.
There is another critical reason to invest heavily in negotiation: the desperadoes should not flee because they need medical testing. It is very likely that people splashing through the floodwaters have been exposed to hepatitis and a host of other highly infectious diseases.
(See mention of Dr. Henry Miller's report in today's earlier Pundita post and the press reports on the public health threat, which are linked on John Batchelor's website site under the "Henry Miller" Friday segment.)
That is why every effort should be made to prevent the evacuees from fanning out individually across the country until they have been given a battery of medical tests.
The terror of the situation is that many evacuees have already fanned out; many of them don't have medical insurance so if they feel 'okay' it's unlikely they'll go to a health clinic for a battery of tests.
Thus, every city and town now offering to shelter evacuees needs to air warnings on TV/radio to the effect that anyone who was in New Orleans during the flooding should immediately go to [X] clinic or X hospital for free medical testing. The warnings should be worded in the most urgent terms and accompanied by a toll free number to call.
This advice extends to well-meaning individuals who want to take evacuees into their home. I do not support this effort because the New Orleans evacuees should be kept together as much as possible. Secondary reasons are that lawyers need to be able to find those evacuees quickly; so do insurance companies and a parade of bureaucrats.
The most important reason for keeping the New Orleans evacuees together is that the federal and local public health agencies can arrange for hospitals to provide free medical tests.
In addition to risk of exposure to hepatitis and cholera, anyone who came in contact with the floodwaters could be suffering from cellulitis and sepsis, not to mention rashes of all kinds. And there is also the risk of heavy metal poisoning from toxins absorbed through the skin or via cuts directly into the bloodstream.
At this moment and at all costs the victims of Katrina need medical treatment (for exposure, dehydration, etc.) and medical tests almost before they need food.
I add that the need for medical tests extends to all who came in close contact with the hurricane victims after the flooding began. This advice extends to television film crews and press reporters.
Please pass this message along to everyone you know who is directly involved on a volunteer basis with helping disaster relief efforts for the victims of Katrina. Of course the warning extends to flood victims outside New Orleans. However, the floodwaters trapped in the "bowl" in which New Orleans is situated creates an unprecedented public health emergency.
According to health experts, never before in the US have so many highly toxic chemicals and putrifying bodies been concentrated and trapped in a small area of flooding -- from which the living have had no escape for days.