Corpses rotted along flooded sidewalks and bands of armed thugs thwarted fitful rescue efforts, and a predawn blast at a chemical plant lit up the sky, as Americans watched the Big Easy dissolve before their eyes, and President Bush agreed: "The results are not acceptable." (audio)
Mr. Bush, facing blistering criticism for his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, pledged to bolster relief efforts with a personal trip to the Gulf Coast.
"There's a lot of aid surging toward those who have been affected, millions of gallons of water, millions of tons of food," he said as he left the White House to tour the region.
"This is a national disgrace," said New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert. "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
"We can take care of our own people, and we're going to do it," Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Mike Brown insisted Friday morning on CBS News' The Early Show. "We're doing absolutely everything we can to get commodities in to those folks."
Brown said the biggest surprise for his agency was the complete lack of communication once the disaster began. "We had not even been told that people had been told to go to the convention center." Now that FEMA knows, Brown said, it is diverting aid there.
"They don't have a clue what's going on down there," Mayor Ray Nagin told CBS radio affiliate WWL-AM Thursday night. "Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed."
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin tells CBS radio affiliate WWL-AM that he gave President Bush a piece of his mind.
Extended Interview With Nagin (WARNING: Includes Swear Words)
How could a major U.S. city descend into anarchy?
"When your whole system, your whole civilized system goes down, this is pretty much what you get left with," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "We have no communications, no running water, no electricity, no real help."
At the hot and stinking Superdome, where tens of thousands were being evacuated by bus to Houston, fistfights and fires erupted amid a seething sea of tense, suffering people who waited in a lines that stretched a half-mile to board yellow school buses.
After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on to the buses that finally did show up, with a group of refugees breaking through a line of heavily armed National Guardsmen.
Nearby, about 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at New Orleans Convention Center grew ever more hostile after waiting for buses for days amid the filth and the dead.
Police Chief Eddie Compass said there was such a crush around a squad of 88 officers that they retreated when they went in to check out reports of assaults.
"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon."
"I do not want this sense of lawlessness to continue, because it's hampering our efforts to bring people in, to save people," she said on The Early Show.
To make matters worse, the chief of the Louisiana State Police said he heard of numerous instances of New Orleans police officers — many of whom from flooded areas — turning in their badges.
"They indicated that they had lost everything and didn't feel that it was worth them going back to take fire from looters and losing their lives," Col. Henry Whitehorn said.
President Bush was to tour the devastated Gulf Coast region Friday and has asked his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Clinton to lead a private fund-raising campaign.
By Thursday evening, 11 hours after the military began evacuating the Superdome, the arena held 10,000 more people than it did at dawn. Evacuees from across the city swelled the crowd to about 30,000 because they believed the arena was the best place to get a ride out of town.
Some of those among the mostly poor crowd had been in the dome for four days without air conditioning, working toilets or a place to bathe. One military policeman was shot in the leg as he and a man scuffled for the MP's rifle. The man was arrested.
An explosion jolted residents awake early Friday, illuminating the pre-dawn sky with red and orange flames over the city where corpses rotted along flooded sidewalks and bands of armed thugs thwarted fitful rescue efforts, as Americans watched the Big Easy dissolve before their eyes.
"It was a long, low rumbling this morning - I've never heard anything like it. It lit up the sky, it actually illuminated the sky," reports CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick.
The blast occurred at a chemical storage facility near the Mississippi River east of the French Quarter, in 55-gallon drums. An official said the smoke was not particularly toxic.