The looters are helping themselves to DVD and MP3 players, beer, flat screen TVs, clothing, booze, guns, candy and sporting goods. Some simply loaded up shopping carts with all they could hold and boldly pushed them out the doors and down the sodden streets. "With no police officers in sight," reported The New York Times, "people carried empty bags, shopping carts and backpacks through the door of the Rite Aid on Wednesday and left with them full. As they came and went, the looters nodded companionably to one another."
No doubt there were some desperate residents of New Orleans who took to theft simply to get food and water from stores bereft of clerks and electricity. But most of the looting is not of that character. As good people within the city struggle to help the sick who lack functioning hospitals, the thousands who lack basic food and shelter, and the unknown number still waiting to be rescued from flooded homes, the psychological blow looters are dealing to the city (and the country) is dramatic. As Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco put it, "What angers me most is disasters tend to bring out the best in everybody, and that's what we expected to see. Instead, it has brought out the worst."
Several news organizations have reported that armed gangs are now roving the streets. They raided a nursing home and took whatever they could lay hands on. "We had enough food for 10 days," Peggy Hoffman, the home's director, told the AP. "Now we'll have to equip our department heads with guns and teach them how to shoot."
The evacuation of the steamy, filthy, unsafe Superdome was temporarily halted after a report (which may or may not be true) that shots were fired at a military helicopter attempting to help out. The Superdome is a sink of misery, with toilets backed up, no air conditioning, and a stench so disgusting that authorities are donning face masks when they enter.
Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered New Orleans police officers to halt their search and rescue efforts and focus on apprehending looters. But how much will the suffering of the stranded and needy be prolonged as the police read looters their rights and take them into custody? How many station houses and jails are even above water? Six thousand inmates in the New Orleans area are already scheduled to be moved to higher ground.