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Weather Related

New Orleans faces double 'nightmare'

City tries to plug levees, evacuate Superdome

Wednesday, August 31, 2005; Posted: 10:34 a.m. EDT (14:34 GMT)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans faced two crises Wednesday that Louisiana's governor called nightmares: stopping rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and evacuating survivors of the deadly storm.

"We've got an engineering nightmare trying to fill the breach of the levee where the waters are pouring into the city," said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Wednesday. "I think they've been working on it all night, and they'll continue to work on it all day today."

The rising flood waters overwhelmed pumping stations that would normally keep the city dry. About 80 percent of the city was flooded with water up to 20 feet deep after the two levees collapsed.

Blanco also said planners were working on evacuating between 12,000 and 15,000 people who sought refuge at the city's Superdome sports arena.

Inside the sports arena, toilets were overflowing and there was no electricity or air conditioning to provide relief from 90-degree heat.

"Well, it's a logistical nightmare," Blanco said. "We have identified other shelters in other parts of the state. Communities are ready to receive these people to help them out."

"They've been running buses in through the night. We're going to get them out, either by boat, lift them out by helicopter, or if we can walk them to the buses, we'll do it. Whatever is necessary, whatever measure is necessary is what we'll do.:"

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday that his complaints Tuesday about "way too many fricking ... cooks in the kitchen," were prompted by frustration.

"I was expecting the levee to be plugged [Tuesday] with three-thousand pound sandbags. It didn't happen."

Nagin said command center officials would come together Wednesday to "start to work in synergy."

Engineers have been working to plug a 200-yard breach near the 17th Street Canal, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to spill into the central business district.

An earlier breach occurred along the Industrial Canal in the city's Lower 9th Ward.

Three shootings, looting and a number of attempted carjackings were reported in New Orleans on Tuesday.

National Guard troops moved into the downtown business district, and state police squads backed by SWAT teams were sent in to scatter looters and restore order, authorities said late Tuesday.

Bush to tap oil reserve

Also Wednesday, in a move aimed at easing concerns about the disaster's effect on the nation's fuel supplies, Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the White House will tap the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Bodman said in an interview on CNN that officials have not determined the amount of crude oil that will be drawn from stockpiles, but that it would be a loan to refiners.

An official announcement was expected Wednesday afternoon, he said.

The impact of Katrina on U.S. oil production and refinery capabilities may be worse than initial reports estimated and could lead to a national gas crisis in the short-term, analysts warned Tuesday.

The death toll from the storm is estimated at 70 -- mostly in Mississippi. Officials stressed that the number is uncertain and likely to be much higher.

Katrina has inflicted more damage to Mississippi beach towns than did Hurricane Camille, and its death toll is likely to be higher, the state's governor said Tuesday.

Camille killed 143 people when it struck the state's coastal counties in 1969 and a total of 256 after it swept inland. "There are structures after structures that survived Camille with minor damage that are not there any more," Gov. Haley Barbour said in Jackson.

Katrina destroyed "every one" of the casinos that brought $500,000 per day in revenues to state coffers, Barbour said after a helicopter tour of the affected areas.

"There were 10- and 20-block areas where there was nothing -- not one home standing," he said.

Streets and homes were flooded as far as six miles inland from the beach, and looting was reported in Biloxi and in Gulfport, officials said.

All around the world

841 dead in Baghdad stampede

323 hurt as bridge railing collapses amid panic near mosque

Wednesday, August 31, 2005; Posted: 1:29 p.m. EDT (17:29 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Deaths mounted steadily in northeast Baghdad after a massive midday Shiite religious procession erupted into a chaotic stampede Wednesday, causing the drowning and trampling deaths of 841 pilgrims.

Authorities believe a rumor raced through the crowd that a suicide bomber was in their midst, and that created panic among the waves of pedestrians trying to cross the Al-A'imma bridge over the Tigris River. The throngs of Shiite faithful had been stopped by security checks and bogged down by concrete barriers.

Three hours earlier, an insurgent mortar attack near the Kadhimiya mosque killed seven people and wounded 36 others.

Government officials are investigating that attack and the stampede itself -- which also led to the injuries of 323 people. The death count could rise as crews search for more victims.

They also want to explore the extent of any "technical defects" on the bridge.

"This will leave a scar in our souls and will be remembered with those who died in the result of terror acts," said President Jalal Talabani, echoing the sorrow across the nation over the tragedy, which prompted comparisons to stampedes at other religious events, such as those in Mecca during the annual pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday's ceremony is one that annually attracts millions of Shiite pilgrims to Baghdad.

The Shiite faithful converge on the Kadhimiya mosque in the northeastern part of Baghdad to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Moussa al-Khadhem, a prominent figure in Shiite history. He is buried at the Kadhimiya mosque, the largest Shiite mosque in the capital.

The stampede occurred at about 11:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. EDT) near the mosque.

As the people made their way to the mosque, authorities said, it appeared that someone in the crowd stoked fears about a bomber, apparently sparking widespread chaos among the crush of people.

In the confusion, the crowd pushed against a railing on a bridge over the Tigris River, forcing it to collapse and sending dozens into the water. Police said most people drowned but some people were crushed to death.

Health Minister Abdul Muttalib Ali confirmed that that "the chaos that happened at the Al-A'imma bridge" because of a "rumor" of a bombing. "This led to a very horrible chaos," the official said, causing people "to run in an uncontrolled way and this led to suffocation of so many people and drowning of some of them in the river."

Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi told reporters that there were concrete barriers on the bridge and people moving forward on the structure had to be searched "for security concerns."

"There had to be a search operation at the end of the bridge. So crowds gathered and a certain scream caused chaos in the crowds and the crowds just reacted and this sorrowful incident took place."

Maj.-Gen. Jawad al-Daini, commander of the al-Rusafa sector of eastern Baghdad, said barricades and barbed wires made it hard for people to walk and "that caused a congestion and suffocated some of the visitors."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari -- who announced a three-day mourning period -- tried to calm his beleaguered fellow citizens in a speech that addressed both the mortar attack and the stampede.

Speaking in a nationally televised TV address, he tried to calm fears and tempers, urging Iraqis "to be patient with the current circumstances" and called on the country's Shiites, Sunnis and Christians "to think about the benefit of Iraq."

"We heard the news that some of those enemies attacked innocent people with mortars killing our faithful sons. This attack caused chaos among the Iraqi people in other areas in Baghdad and then because of the technical defects of the bridge, many people were martyred."

Al-Jaafari also offered his "gratitude and appreciation to the Iraqi people who continued with their commemoration despite what happened and I want to thank the Iraqi government who helped the Iraqi people and did not stop providing their assistance and security to the people."

The tragedy came amid an atmosphere of general tension in the capital and throughout the society -- daily warfare across the nation, suicide bombings that had been rife in the capital, the continual tensions between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs, and an attack in the same area in March 2004 during the Ashura commemoration, another Shiite holy period.

Al-Dulaimi -- who spoke at a press briefing later with Interior Minister Bayan Jabr -- stressed that the security had been tight in Baghdad and in southern cities around the so-called Triangle of Death for the Shiite pilgrims heading to the capital.

They pointed to a number of security actions that helped keep order, such as the foiling of car bombings and suicide attackers and the disarming of improvised explosive devices. In one case, an Afghan insurgent headed toward Kadhimiya was killed.

Al-Dulaimi believes all necessary measures had been taken to protect the pilgrims.

The bridge across the Tigris, called the Al-A'imma, is not only a main thoroughfare leading to the shrine, it is also an important juncture in Baghdad -- separating Kadhimiya and Adhamiya.

The largest Shiite mosque in Baghdad is in Kadhimiya, where there is a strong Shiite community, and the largest Sunni mosque in Adhamiya, which has been a longtime insurgent stronghold with a strong Sunni Arab presence.

Al-Dulaimi discounted any theories that this incident was sparked by Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence.

He and other officials thought the bridge should have been closed. Instead, it was opened to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims.

The bridge -- which frequently has been closed to vehicle and/or pedestrian traffic for security reasons over the past few months -- is also near a joint U.S.-Iraqi military base.

United States related

Will gas prices become $4 a gallon?

Pricing analysts say consumers  can expect even higher prices at the pump.

August 31, 2005: 12:46 PM EDT NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Consumers can expect retail gas prices to rise to $4 a gallon soon but whether they stay there depends on the long-term damage to oil facilities from Hurricane Katrina, oil and gas analysts said Wednesday.

"There's no question gas will hit $4 a gallon," Ben Brockwell, director of pricing at the Oil Price Information Service, said. "The question is how high will it go and how long will it last?"

OPIS tracks wholesale and retail oil prices and provides pricing information for AAA's daily reports on fuel prices.

Brockwell said with gasoline prices now exceeding $3 a gallon before even reaching the wholesale level, it "doesn't take a genius" to expect retail prices to hit $4 a gallon soon.

"Consumers haven't seen the worst of it yet," Brockwell said.

He expects consumers in the Southeast and Northeast to be pinched first, following the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast region.

Katrina pressures gas supplies

Katrina forced operators to close more than a tenth of the country's refining capacity and a quarter of its oil production, which sent gasoline prices surging.

Two major pipelines that supply gasoline to key terminals and distribution centers along the Eastern U.S. were shut down due to power outages caused by the storm

Colonial Pipeline said it hopes to be back in partial operation soon, while the date of Plantation Pipeline's restart is not clear. Each day the pipelines are closed, supplies get backlogged and distribution centers must rely on reserves.

"With this kind of hiccup in refinery capacity, in stretched markets like California, you could see over $4 a gallon in gas," Evan Smith, an analyst at U.S. Global Investors, told CNN/Money.

While it's still too early to fully assess the damage caused by Katrina, efforts to build up inventories of crude oil, natural gas and other products like gasoline will be set back by the storm, according to Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight.

In a research note, Behravesh laid out a worst-case scenario that puts average prices for regular unleaded gasoline at about $3.50 a gallon for the next four to six months.

"The impact on consumer spending in such a scenario would be very dramatic, cutting the growth rate by as much as 3 percent and pushing real GDP growth in the fourth quarter closer to zero," he wrote.

In a best-case scenario, he forecast retail pump prices to peak at $3 a gallon for a couple of months, but then fall back to around $2.50 by year-end.

The nationwide average price for a gallon of regular unleaded hit a fresh high of $2.619 Wednesday, according to AAA, the largest U.S. motorist organization, formerly known as the American Automobile Association.

Average gasoline prices have gained 40 percent in the last year.

Prices for crude oil are also up sharply and are currently hovering near record highs just under $70 a barrel.

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