As we go to broadcast the city of New Orleans is bracing for Hurricane Katrina, one of the most powerful hurricanes in the country’s history. The hurricane made landfall at about 5 a.m. central time with winds of over 150 miles per hour. On Sunday New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation for the first time in the city’s history. “I don’t want to create panic but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious and it’s of the highest nature and that’s why we’re taking this unprecedented move,” Nagin said. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled New Orleans. But tens of thousands could not — including many who couldn’t financially afford to. Thousands have taken refuge in the SuperDome.
On Sunday the National Weather Service warned the storm could leave the low-lying city uninhabitable for weeks. More than one million people could be left homeless. Officials are warning that the storm could topple the city’s levees and canals leading to mass flooding and the possibility that New Orleans will be turned into a toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from refineries, as well as waste from ruined septic systems. As a precaution, the Waterford nuclear plant near New Orleans has been shut down. Oil and refinery operations in the Gulf of Mexico have also been closed prompting the cost of a barrel of crude oil to pass the $70 mark for the first time ever.
The war in Iraq may also play a role in the recovery and cleanup of the hurricane. Earlier this month the Louisiana National Guard publicly complained that too much of its equipment was in Iraq. The local ABC news affiliate reported dozens of high water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad.
In Iraq, Shiite and Kurdish members of Iraq’s constitution drafting committee have agreed on a draft charter but Sunni Arab lawmakers have largely rejected the document. Some members of the drafting committee signed the draft charter but in a surprise move the full National Assembly never took a vote. A nationwide referendum on the constitution is now scheduled for Oct. 15. On Sunday President Bush attempted to downplay the Sunni opposition to the draft constitution. “Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions of the constitution, and that’s their right as free individuals living in a free society,” Bush said. “There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups. Sunnis are warning that the constitution could lead to civil war because it will allow Shiites to create an autonomous government in the oil-rich south.
Iraqi women have also criticized the draft constitution for not going far enough to safeguard women’s rights. One critic of the new constitution is Safia Taleb al-Souhail–who just months ago was hailed by the Bush administration as a symbol of the possibility of a brighter future for Iraq. In February she sat with Laura Bush during President Bush’s state of the union and held up her finger died purple to show that she recently voted in Iraq’s first elections since the invasion. But now she is criticizing the new constitution. She told the Independent of London “When we came back from exile, we thought we were going to improve rights and the position of women. But look what has happened: we have lost all the gains we made over the past 30 years. It’s a big disappointment.”
In Baghdad, a sound technician working for the Reuters news agency was shot dead by U.S. forces on Sunday. This according to the Iraqi police. Waleed Khaled died after being shot in the head. After the shooting the U.S. detained a Reuters cameraman who witnessed the killing. The team was on assignment covering the killing of two police men. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad promised a full investigation into the incident but he fell short of apologizing for the killing.
In Crawford, Texas, the anti-war vigil led by Cindy Sheehan has entered its 24th day outside President Bush’s 1,600 acre estate. Over the weekend thousands of military families, veterans and anti-war activists gathered for the final weekend of the vigil. Former U.S. diplomat Ann Wright — who has been running much of Camp Casey — is now estimating that up to 10,000 people have visited the camp since the vigil was launched on Aug. 6. This is Iraq War veteran Sean O’Neill: “I know too many good men that died out there who left behind families, widows, children that will grow up without their fathers. And for what?”
A high-level Pentagon official has been demoted after she publicly criticized the Pentagon’s decision to give Halliburton no-bid contracts in Iraq worth billions of dollars. The officer — Bunnatine Greenhouse — had worked at the Pentagon for 20 years. Since 1998 she has served as the chief overseer of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers. Last year Greenhouse went public to criticize the contracts involving Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root. She said, “I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed.”
The Israeli government has revealed that the number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank has increased this year by 9,000 even though Israel recently evacuated four small West Bank settlements. According to the Israeli interior office, nearly 250,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank. Another 200,000 live in East Jerusalem. In southern Israel, 40 people were hospitalized after a Palestinian man blew himself up while boarding a bus. It marked the first suicide attack since the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants said the suicide attack was revenge for the recent killing of five Palestinians in the West Bank town of Tulkarem.
At Guantanamo Bay, 89 detainees have resumed a hunger strike to protest against their living conditions and their continued detention without trial. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith warned that many detainees have grown so desperate that they intend to starve themselves to death in an effort to create a public relations disaster for the US military. The hunger strike was sparked by rumors of a violent interrogation session and two rough extractions of detainees from their cells, as well as a new incident of alleged desecration of a copy of the Koran.
This news from Venezuela: Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson traveled to Caracas this weekend to offer support to Hugo Chavez just days after evangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of the Venezuelan president. “Be very clear that the position taken by Reverend Robertson last week was not legal, was not moral, and it must be soundly rejected,” Jackson said. President Chavez warned that if anything happens to him, the person responsible would be President Bush. He also said that if the Bush administration does not take action against Robertson then Venezuela would go the United Nations and the Organization of American States to denounce the U.S. for harboring a terrorist.
In New York, hundreds of bicyclists gathered Friday for the monthly Critical Mass ride marking the anniversary of last year’s ride on the eve of the Republican Night Convention when over 260 people were arrested. On Friday, the police came out in force again making 49 arrests including many within the first few minutes of the ride.
And 35 years ago today, some 20,000 Chicano antiwar demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles to march against the Vietnam War and the draft. The protests were organized by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee. Three people died including journalist Ruben Salazar who was shot by police. Salazar was a columnist with the Los Angeles Times and was the news director at KMEX.