Only now, a week after Hurricane Katrina roared across the Deep South, leaving a trail of devastation across America's psyche, is the true story of the Battle of New Orleans emerging. As convoys of commandeered school buses and Greyhound coaches transported tens of thousands of refugees out of the submerged city yesterday, in a belated and much-criticised relief operation, each vehicle brought with it new tales of horror.
Those trapped inside the two main shelters, the Superdome and the Convention Centre, paint a picture of a city that was subsumed beneath waves of violence, rape and death and accuse the police and National Guard of standing by, ignoring their pleas for help. The claims are rejected by the federal and state authorities, who instead suggest the looting and lawlessness which followed the extensive flooding of the city was the result of a series of isolated incidents perpetrated by a few. But it is clear from talking to survivors that what happened in New Orleans last week was far more extensive, bloody and terrifying than the authorities have admitted so far.
'We had to wrap dead people in white sheets and throw them outside while the police stood by and did nothing,' said Correll Williams, a 19-year-old meat cutter from the Crowder Road district in the east of the city, who waded two miles through waist-high water to make it to the Convention Centre after hearing on the radio it was being turned into a refuge.
'The police were in boats watching us. They were just laughing at us. Five of them to a boat, not trying to help nobody. Helicopters were riding by just looking at us. They weren't helping. We were pulling people on bits of wood, and the National Guard would come driving by in their empty military trucks.'
If this is the way that the World's superpower deals with a disaster, then God help us all.
What country is really prepared for a disaster of this size?