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Some Aid For Tense New Orleans

Thousands of National Guardsmen with food, water and weapons streamed into hurricane-ravaged New Orleans Friday to bring relief to the suffering multitudes and put down the looting and violence. "The cavalry is and will continue to arrive," said one general.

On Highway 90 leading into New Orleans, CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick saw convoys of vehicles pulling boats, National Guard and FEMA trucks, yellow school buses and ambulances.

"We have seen very few of those since this hurricane hit," McCormick said.

Assurances of the arrival of more aid came amid blistering criticism from the mayor and others who said the federal government was bungling the relief effort while people lay dying in the streets for lack of food, water or medicine.

In other developments:

  • Hurricane damages to farm-related industries will cost more than $2 billion and could increase food prices, according to estimates by American Farm Bureau Federation.
  • State Department officials say there are now offers of assistance from more than 40 countries and also several international organizations, reports CBS News Correspondent Charles Wolfson. Among the countries offering help are Venezuela and Cuba, both of which have major political differences with Washington.
  • The Bush administration moved toward releasing nearly a million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to deal with scattered fuel shortages as Congress worked Friday to provide $10.5 billion for relief and rescue efforts.
  • Shipping could resume this weekend in Mobile, with some restrictions, a week after the Mobile Ship Channel closed due to Hurricane Katrina. But Coast Guard officials said the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Mobile to New Orleans remains closed.

    In Washington, President Bush admitted "the results are not acceptable" and pledged to bolster the relief efforts.

    "We'll get on top of this situation," he said before setting out, "and we're going to help the people that need help."

    As he began his tour of the region with a stop in Mobile, Alabama, he said, "It's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine."

    Tonight's CBS Evening News will run one hour on most CBS stations.

    "This is a national disgrace," said New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert Thursday. "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)
  • Adding to the fear in New Orleans: Before dawn Friday, an explosion at a chemical depot rocked a wide area of New Orleans and jolted residents awake, lighting up the dark sky and sending a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a ruined city awash in corpses, under siege from looters, and seething with anger and resentment. There were no reports of injuries or toxic fumes from the blast.

    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."

    Lt. Gen. Steven Blum of the National Guard said 7,000 National Guardsmen arriving in Louisiana on Friday would be dedicated to restoring order in New Orleans. He said half of them had just returned from assignments overseas and are "highly proficient in the use of lethal force." He pledged to "put down" the violence "in a quick and efficient manner."

    "But they are coming here to save Louisiana citizens. The only thing we are attacking is the effects of this hurricane," he said. Blum said that a huge airlift of supplies was landing Friday and that it signaled "the cavalry is and will continue to arrive."

    Across the city, law and order has broken down. Police officers turned in their badges. Rescuers, law officers and helicopter were shot at by storm victims. Fistfights and fires broke out Thursday at the hot and stinking Superdome as thousands of people waited in misery to board buses for the Houston Astrodome. Corpses lay out in the open in wheelchairs and in bedsheets. The looting continued.

    "I do not want this sense of lawlessness to continue, because it's hampering our efforts to bring people in, to save people," Blanco said on The Early Show.

    The early morning blast occurred at a chemical storage facility near the Mississippi River across the river from the French Quarter, in 55-gallon drums. An official said the smoke was not particularly toxic.

    Later, there were other explosions, and at least one fire in a downtown building, but McCormick reports all emergency personnel can do is watch. "There are no fire trucks on the scene, there is no water pressure in this city," she said.

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