SPENCER MICHELS: While officials assessed the damage and attempted to relieve the misery, the people of New Orleans tried to cope with an unprecedented disaster.
With water pouring into city streets through two levee breaks and 80 percent of the city underwater, the mayor said he had no choice but to order the total evacuation of the city. He added that New Orleans won't be functional for two or three months.
Attempts to plug the breaches with sandbags have thus far failed. The risk of disease is growing, as officials confirmed bodies are floating in the water around the city.
So today refugees awaited help. There are as many as 1 million homeless people across the region.
WOMAN: If I cry, I've got to keep a strong front in, in front of my children and if I panic then they're going to panic.
WOMAN: As long as I have my family and everybody else is all right and we're very grateful.
SPENCER MICHELS: Coast Guard teams continued rescue operations by helicopter -- plucking people huddled on rooftops.
Hundreds remained stranded on rooftops and balconies frantically waving and holding signs calling for help, hoping for rescue.
This woman had to decide which of her family members to leave behind because the police rescuing the family had limited space.
DIANNE ANDERSON: I was trying to send my baby and my daughter with the police officer because the baby has a respiratory problem but I'm looking at my other daughter with her three kids and my brother standing there. I want to be there with them because I feel like when my daughter had a chance to go with the policeman it would have been a good choice but to leave my brother and my grandkids and my other daughter, it's like I couldn't do it, but my baby girl with the baby -- she was screaming and crying and saying "If you don't come with me, I'll kill myself; you've got to come with me." So my daughter told me take my daughter, take Lexis and she said, "Go."
SPENCER MICHELS: Many residents didn't evacuate because they didn't have cars, money for gas or anywhere to go. A quarter of New Orleans residents live below the poverty level.
JOANNE MURPHY: It's just a thing that always happens. The ones that has the least, seems like they're hit harder than anything else.
SPENCER MICHELS: Others residents made the conscious decision to weather the storm.
MAN: Well, I work for the sheriff in Orleans Parish, and I was afraid, you know, if the water wasn't high, I would have to go to work. So we decided to ride it out, and it was a bad mistake.
SPENCER MICHELS: This man was looking ahead to rebuilding but he has no insurance.
TIMOTHY ANDREWS: If don't nobody get me any kind of assistance, I'm just going to have to try to do it piece by piece, wood by wood, paycheck by paycheck.
SPENCER MICHELS: Looters roamed the streets, particularly in the French Quarter, which sits on higher ground and wasn't flooded as badly as the rest of the city.
SHIRELLE JACKSON: It was a disaster. People were shooting right across the street from me.
REPORTER: They were shooting guns?
SHIRELLE JACKSON: They were shooting at each other. They were saying that they didn't care about life anymore. And it was just disastrous. It was rioting; they had a building burning down, a pawnshop where they had set it afire. And people were just looting. It was like a movie to me. You know, I haven't woke up. I feel like I'm in a dream or something.
SPENCER MICHELS: Others wandered the flooded streets desperately looking for basic supplies -- water, food, shelter and gasoline. There's no electricity and no running water and many communication systems remain down.
Inmates from a jail were moved out of their flooded cells and onto exit ramps of nearby highways -- as guards stood by with guns.
Not far away -- the Superdome -- where tens of thousands sought shelter, was surrounded by at least eight feet of water. Thousands more refugees sat outside the Superdome waiting for shelter.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his response team today explained they'd shelter the 23,000 refugees at Houston's Astrodome -- transferring them in a bus caravan.
HARRIS COUNTY JUDGE ROBERT ECKELS: The Astrodome is a county facility. We have worked closely and have contingency plans to use the dome as an emergency disaster recovery and refuge center in the event of a storm here in Houston. We're implementing those plans today for New Orleans. The dome is not suited well for this kind of a crowd for a long term.
The problem when you put twenty or thirty thousand people in a single place you have problems of privacy; you have problems of social issues, psychological problems when you put those people in that kind of an environment.
We are also dealing with people who have been without food, without water, without sanitary sewer, without the ability to take a shower for three or four days. They're not happy when they come here. And we are cognizant of that.
We will provide a place for as long as is necessary but are working closely with FEMA, with the Governor's Emergency Management officials to try to move them through the dome to other facilities where they would be better suited for the longer term.
SPENCER MICHELS: Army National Guard troops continued arriving on the scene to assist and keep law and order. And four Navy ships left from Norfolk, Virginia today to join the relief effort.
KEVIN BAKER: That case of water may be the case of water that makes it to one of my family members and you know just knowing that I had a small part in that is going to be, you know good for me just knowing that in some way I helped.
SPENCER MICHELS: Thirty-two miles Northeast of New Orleans, this is all that remains of the town of Slidell.
WOMAN: Oh it's gone. It's total disaster, nothing left. We lost everything.
OLDER WOMAN: We just didn't think it would be that bad, but inside our home water was up to here.
SPENCER MICHELS: Interstate 10 used to go through Slidell but now it looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Katrina tore out the bridge leading into the town of 25,000.
This house was cut in half by a fallen tree.
Jim Day was sitting in his garage when the tree came through the roof.
JIM DAY: Crash, bang, I dove out of the car into the house.
REPORTER: Where was your heart?
JIM DAY: It was still in the car.
SPENCER MICHELS: Next door in Mississippi, Gulfport today lies a city in ruins. Residents stood in line for ice as military police patrolled the streets.
In Biloxi, casinos and homes up and down the coast were flattened by the 30 foot storm surge.
SHIRLEY ROBINSON: There's not a word to describe it. Wondering how long it's going to take for things to get back to normal. Power, water, food, gas, stores destroyed, gas stations destroyed, homes destroyed, loss of life. There's no question in my mind that if there's ever a storm approaching, you know, next time we're going to leave the area. And we won't worry about trying to get back because a lot of times -- as you can see-- there's not much to come back to.
CURTIS TOCHE: We raised seven children here, my wife and I are 73 and 74 and yesterday this hurricane wiped us clean. Every one of my children lost everything they had.
HAYES BOLTON: This property right here has been in family. This was my uncle's house right here; this was grandmother's house. This was my pawn shop over here and also had jet ski rental business out of it. There's a house right back in the back over here that you can't quite see it but it's my aunt's house and it's totaled. These are just gone completely, and we have pretty long history here on the corner and it's all gone, it's devastated; it looks like someone nuked the place. It's just -- I'm an emotional mess, I mean, I can't deal with it.
SPENCER MICHELS: Late today in New Orleans, one ray of hope amid what officials are calling an impossible situation - water stopped rising as the levels between the city and Lake Pontchartrain equalized. And in some places the water appeared to be dropping slightly, but New Orleans is far from out of the woods.