National Guard troops in armored vehicles poured into New Orleans Thursday to curb the city's growing lawlessness after Hurricane Katrina, as the governor in nearby Mississippi vowed to deal with looters in his state as "ruthlessly as we can get our hands on them."
About 10,000 National Guard troops from around the country were ordered to shore up security, rescue and relief operations along the hurricane-battered Gulf of Mexico coast.
"The truth is, a terrible tragedy like this brings out the best in most people, brings out the worst in some people," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on NBC's "Today" show. "We're trying to deal with looters as ruthlessly as we can get our hands on them."
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin also ordered virtually the entire police force to abandon search-and-rescue efforts and stop thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile.
Conditions at the Superdome had become horrendous: There was no air conditioning, the toilets were backed up, and the stench was so bad that medical workers wore masks as they walked around. The first of 500 busloads of people arrived early Thursday at the Astrodome, another domed sports arena.
In a sign of growing lawlessness, Tenet HealthCare Corp. asked authorities late Wednesday to help evacuate a fully functioning hospital in Gretna after a supply truck carrying food, water and medical supplies was held up at gunpoint.
"There are physical threats to safety from roving bands of armed individuals with weapons who are threatening the safety of the hospital," said spokesman Steven Campanini. He estimated there were about 350 employees in the hospital and between 125 to 150 patients.
Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, clothes, TV sets, even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.