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In Southeastern U.S., Storm Leaves Many People Homeless, Helpless, Angry

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Building after building under water. Refugees in shelters. Thousands of others unsure where to go. Appeals for help. Anarchy. Bodies in streets. This is what one of America's historic cities was reduced to this week by a powerful storm, Katrina.

Officials want everyone still left in New Orleans, Louisiana, to leave for now. The mayor of New Orleans says thousands may be dead. Hurricane Katrina also caused death and destruction in parts of Mississippi and Alabama along the Gulf of Mexico. Federal officials reported Friday that more than one million five hundred thousand homes and businesses remained without electric power.

New Orleans is famous for its wild Mardi Gras celebrations and night life in the French Quarter. Yet the city of nearly five hundred thousand people was built below sea level. New Orleans has depended on levees, dams made of earth, to control floods from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.

Katrina struck on Monday. New Orleans avoided a direct hit. But two of the levees failed the next day. Most of the city was flooded. Helicopters dropped huge sandbags to fill the breaks. But the water had no place to go. Pumping stations had no power.

America faces one of the worst natural events in its history. President Bush says the recovery will take years. Congress returned from a summer holiday to approve a request for ten thousand five hundred million dollars in emergency spending. The Bush administration is expected to ask for more in the weeks to come.

People were told to leave the path of the storm. But some would not or could not. Many of those worst affected by Katrina are poor and black. African-American leaders and others were angry that government aid did not arrive faster. President Bush visited some of the damaged areas on Friday. He said the way officials reacted to the crisis was unacceptable.

The economic effects of Katrina are being felt across the United States. About one-fourth of the oil produced nationwide comes from the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is also a major port for foreign oil and other shipping trade.

Energy officials say the storm has cut oil production by ninety percent and natural gas production by almost eighty percent. Some oil and gas operations have restarted in the Gulf. But the full amount of the damage has not yet been reported.

The president approved a release of oil from emergency supplies. But the storm also closed processing centers that make oil into fuel. The Energy Department says the nation has lost about ten percent of its gasoline supply. Some fuel stations have no more gasoline. American drivers have been urged to use less fuel.

Oil and gasoline prices were already high before the storm. Now many people are angry at what they see as attempts to profit from Katrina.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I’m Steve Ember.