Editor's note: Last week, Tahoe World photographer Court Leve intended to follow the Nevada National Guard for a day-in-the-life feature. Hurricane Katrina changed all that. Instead, Leve on Tuesday flew with Reno's Air Guard to New Orleans to cover the relief effort there. He spent Wednesday flying with a crew in a Blackhawk helicopter. He returns to Tahoe today. Below is his latest journal entry from his Wednesday flight:
How to describe the indescribable.... The scene in New Orleans as seen from a Blackhawk helicopter is hard to believe. As far as the eye can see from above, vast blocks of houses are still up to their roofs in water.
As we flew over the city, I could see fires from broken gas lines rising up out of the water ... there were people trying to live on their roofs, where they had mattresses and blankets. Dogs were left on floating pallets. Rescue workers were going block by block via small zodiac and swamp boats searching for survivors and bodies of the dead.
Over the radio we could hear other helicopter pilots spotting victims and rescuing people. Some people still refused to cooperate and the choppers left their particular scene, calling in ground troops to go to their doors by boat.
Even at more than 500 feet, I could easily smell the stench of raw sewage. Pools of oil from cars and elsewhere clouded the already murky water.
At the harbors, boats stacked up on top of each other like pick-up sticks. Trees are smashed in half and lay all over region.
For this city to return to normal will take weeks, if not months, and more patience than most could stand.
The sheer amount of man and machine power that is present is quite impressive. Helicopters run all day, looking for survivors, dropping sand bags on levees and running "freelance" like my team was doing, searching for bodies or anyone who may still be alive.
Some rooftops were spray painted in orange with X's on them, signifying a home where a corpse was removed.