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Louisiana officials struggle to contain looting in Katrina's wake

[JURIST] Officials struggled Wednesday to control looting in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as tiring law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen undertook more rescue and relief efforts. Widespread looting throughout the city has been reported, with crowds of people stealing food, clothing and other supplies in demand. Terry Ebbert, homeland security chief for New Orleans, said gangs of armed men had broken into stores around the city and taken guns. Police officers stranded on a hotel roof were even fired on by a group of criminals, Ebbert said. Officials seeking under emergency powers [JURIST report] to commandeer materials to aid in rescue efforts were at times competing with looters for supplies. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco [official website] has sought additional rescue personnel so that state and local security forces can bring the situation under control. Meanwhile in Washington Assistant US Defense Secretary Paul McHale said Wednesday that the National Guard was ready to assist local civilian authorities in law enforcement across the Gulf Coast at the request of state governors, a procedure which circumvents restrictions on direct domestic law enforcement by the military [JURIST report] under the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act [text; Wikipedia backgrounder]. He said the President also could use active duty troops to restore order if necessary, but that step was unlikely. The new US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) [official website] established after the September 11 terror attacks is co-ordinating the deployment of military assets [US DOD report]. From New Orleans, the Times-Picayune has a late report on the looting situation and provides continuing local coverage of the emergency. AP has more.

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