Whatever happened at the Superdome and the Convention Center, it wasn't nearly as bad as we were led to believe

| Mon Sep. 26, 2005 7:46 PM EDT

When a FEMA doctor finally arrived at the Louisiana Superdome with a refrigerated 18-wheeler to begin counting and collecting the estimated two hundred bodies, he was surprised to find only six. Of those, four had died of natural causes, one had overdosed, and one had committed suicide. Four other bodies were found outside the Dome. According to both Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron and officials of the state's Health and Human Services Department, no one was killed.

There were also supposed to be corpses piled inside the Ernest Morial Convention Center, but only four bodies were found there. One of those did indeed appear to have been killed. The Louisiana Health and Human Services Department did repeated searches of both facilities because of the rampant reports that a kind of war had broken out in them, but no one ever found any proof that anything of the kind had happened.

The rumor mill got an exceptionally powerful grind when both New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and New Orleans Chief of Police Eddie Compass told Oprah Winfrey that "hundreds of armed gang members" were inside the Superdome, and that countless bodies lay dead on the floor. Police Chief Compass changed his story from day to day. He told one reporter that the police confiscated thirty weapons from criminals; he told another reporter that the police recovered no weapons.

There was a lot of looting at the Convention Center, and gunfire was heard. It is hard to sort out truth from rumor, and we will never know exactly what took place. What is known is that the National Guard met no resistance when it took control of the facility. Lt. Col. John Edwards of the Arkansas National Guard, said the Guard received no hostility when it entered the building, and in fact, were welcomed by cheering.

Reports of rapes and armed robberies are the hardest to corroborate, according to both Guard officials and others who were there. So many witnesses have come forward to describe what they saw, it seems almost certain that some children were raped. One child molester followed the crowd from the Superdome to the Convention Center, and evacuees told authorities that they were prepared to deal with him if the Guard didn't.

The mainstream news media has been slow to acknowledge that the multiple shootings and rapes were just rumors, and that there were no piles of dead bodies on the Convention Center floor. The image of desperate savages murdering each other as flood waters raged around them is one that easily feeds the hatred that many Americans have of the poor, and especially poor people of color.

One thing is certain. As Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Jacques Thibodeaux reported: Both infants and the elderly were close to death, with no food or water, living in filth--a scene that Thibodeaux said shocked soldiers more than anything they had seen in combat zones.

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