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Opportunity and desperation make a flammable mix. All along the coast, people broke into parked cars to siphon gas. Police reported that a man in Hattiesburg, Miss., shot his sister in the head in a fight over a bag of ice. A rescue team from Texas that had ferried hundreds of people to safety in their flat-bottom boats were told by a New Orleans sheriff that unless they were armed, they should get out of the city. At one point, rescuer Randy White says, "Someone yelled out to me, 'If you don't get us out by 12 o'clock, we're going to start shooting all the rescuers.'" One man was standing on Canal Boulevard with water up to his chest wearing a mink coat that he had liberated from a store. "This natural disaster is beginning to look like a Watts riot," said a worried congressional aide in Washington as he watched the chaos. "There's something really ugly going on here, something wrong at a deeper level."
One thing that was wrong may have been that right and wrong had jumped their tracks. For all the scorching images of armed thugs making off with sneakers and wide-screen TVs, the larger reality wasn't as simple as the President's call for "zero tolerance"of looting. Was it wrong to take a bottle of milk from a store when your baby was sobbing and there was no way to pay for it if you tried? When cans of food are scattered in the debris, does taking them amount to theft, or salvage? At one point, police with guns drawn escorted Dr. Henderson through a Walgreens as he emptied the pharmacy of drugs to use in a French Quarter bar turned makeshift clinic. Dudley Fuqua, tall and lean in baggy blue shorts, broke into neighborhood shops and took canned goods, frozen chicken and ribs and cigarettes to his neighbors, who called him a hero. "I was in a building with no food, no water for five nights," Fuqua's neighbor Mohammed Ally, 70, told TIME's Brian Bennett. "They were taking care of the elderly people." Fuqua saw a neighbor using his empty refrigerator as a rowboat to paddle through the water to get help for his pregnant wife. When the buoyant refrigerator tipped, Fuqua dove off a second-story balcony to help and sliced his feet on a rain gutter. "I was going to make sure everyone was O.K."
Only by Friday did some palpable help arrive, in the form of thousands of National Guard troops and lumbering convoys of supplies. Virtually alone, Lieut. General Russel Honore, commanding Joint Task Force Katrina, whom Mayor Nagin referred to as the John Wayne dude, seemed to be moving pieces into place. He was out in the streets with his troops, directing convoys and telling anxious Guardsmen to keep their weapons pointed down. He "came off the doggone chopper," Nagin said, "and he started cussing, and people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done. They ought to give that guy full authority to get the job done, and we can save some people."