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RITA'S AFTERMATH

Katrina Takes a Toll on Truth, News Accuracy

Rumors supplanted accurate information and media magnified the problem. Rapes, violence and estimates of the dead were wrong.

September 27, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt and James Rainey | Times Staff Writers

Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing.

State officials this week said their counts of the dead at the city's two largest evacuation points fell far short of early rumors and news reports. Ten bodies were recovered from the Superdome and four from the Convention Center, said Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

(National Guard officials put the body count at the Superdome at six, saying the other four bodies came from the area around the stadium.)

Of the 841 recorded hurricane-related deaths in Louisiana, four are identified as gunshot victims, Johannessen said. One victim was found in the Superdome but was believed to have been brought there, and one was found at the Convention Center, he added.

Relief workers said that while the media hyped criminal activity, plenty of real suffering did occur at the Katrina relief centers.

"The hurricane had just passed, you had massive trauma to the city," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard.

"No air conditioning, no sewage ... it was not a nice place to be. All those people just in there, they were frustrated, they were hot. Out of all that chaos, all of these rumors start flying."

Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron, who headed security at the Superdome, said that for every complaint, "49 other people said, 'Thank you, God bless you.' "

The media inaccuracies had consequences in the disaster zone.

Bush, of the National Guard, said that reports of corpses at the Superdome filtered back to the facility via AM radio, undermining his struggle to keep morale up and maintain order.

"We had to convince people this was still the best place to be," Bush said. "What I saw in the Superdome was just tremendous amounts of people helping people."

But, Bush said, those stories received scant attention in newspapers or on television.

Times staff writer Scott Gold contributed to this report.

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