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People had been pouring into the building since Monday. It was not until Thursday that soldiers had dumped food and water from hovering helicopters. "It's the looters breaking into stores and bringing food and water that have kept us alive," said a man named Brandon Jackson.

On Friday afternoon a late-model Chrysler barreled around the corner from Julia Street and headed south on Convention Center Boulevard. It jerked to a stop in front of the building, and a young man with cornrow braids wearing a giant T-shirt and baggy jeans stepped out. A young woman who rode in with him threw open the trunk, which was filled with crates of orange drink. As people from the crowd swarmed the car, she shouted that the delivery was specifically for women with young children. Where, someone asked the driver—who at that moment was eyeing a Humvee full of heavily armed National Guardsmen who had arrived that morning, apparently not to help people but to guard them—did the juice come from? The young man shrugged and said, "Mmm, just found it."

It would be reported later that domestic and international aid shipments and professional relief workers had been stuck in airports and hotels and idling in trucks while government bureaucrats discussed how to deploy resources. The American Red Cross, meanwhile, had been ordered by the Department of Homeland Security to stay out of New Orleans. The more unpleasant the city was, the reasoning went, the more residents would want to leave—never mind if they had no way to do so.

For now, the young man and young woman were the only humanitarian aid I could see in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I wanted to ask them if they'd heard about the Louisiana governor's shoot-to-kill order, delivered the previous day after news reports of thugs ruling the streets and looters stripping abandoned stores of TVs. I'd been told that the local police, at least, were looking the other way when people scavenged for necessities. Still, I wouldn't have wanted to be in the shoes of a young black man in baggy attire in an abandoned store. But he and the girl jumped in the car and were gone before I could ask the question.

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