Anxious and frightened, the citizens had the mayor of New Orleans surrounded. They wanted reassurance, answers, a firm date when normal lives could be resumed.
Ray Nagin wouldn't give it to them. He listened calmly, not trying to escape the hotel corridor. But there was no sugarcoating.
"You need to listen very carefully," Nagin told them. "For the next two or three months, in this area, there will not be any commerce, at all. No electricity, no restaurants. This is the real deal. It's not living conditions."
Outside, it is sweltering chaos. A once-functioning American city is suddenly in a state of nature. But Nagin is calm, at least outwardly, reports Washington Post.
According to Detroit Free Press, Nagin redirected virtually the entire police force in New Orleans away from thousands still believed trapped in their homes, federal officials warned the toxic soup of pollutants, feces and decaying bodies covering the city could cause diseases, including cholera and typhoid, that would endanger many more.
"We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the conditions," said Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, in announcing a public health emergency from Louisiana to Florida.
Experts said it could be several weeks before the contaminated floodwaters are pumped from the city, heightening the risk of more hardship across an area already ravaged by Katrina, which roared in with a 145-m.p.h. fury Monday.