'A scene from Mad Max': Britons reveal horror of the Superdome

Mark Graydon, 26, had described to his father John Graydon how the stadium, a makeshift home to about 30,000 evacuees from the hurricane, including a group of about 30 Britons, was being run by local mafia. He said that his American fiancée, Gretchen Heiserman, had been threatened with rape.

"He told me he was very concerned about his life and his girlfriend's" said John Graydon from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, "He said: 'Dad, you have to get us out of here'. He is desperate. They are being seriously intimidated."

Mr Graydon's father added: "He and Gretchen are surrounded by bullies, the local mafia ­ huge threatening men who seem to have taken over the running of the place. There are rumours a couple of women have been raped and he is scared for Gretchen. It's like a scene from Mad Max in there. One man has been beaten up brutally. There are also reports of bodies inside."

Marisa Haigh, 23, a student from Guildford in Surrey, had managed to contact her parents to tell them that she had been told by the US authorities she would soon be evacuated. She described how conditions were "appalling".

But last night the New Orleans Superdome was all but emptied of people as the thousands who had been forced to spend the past week huddled in festering conditions were put on to buses and driven out of the city.

They left behind a scene unimaginable to anyone who had previously visited the Dome, or indeed any other sports stadium. Noxious, flooded and littered with endless piles of debris, it was obvious how unpleasant the past week must have been.

Upon entering the doors, one was greeted with a toxic blast of air, but inside it was far worse.

Others told of violence, fights, and sexual assaults ­ even one man who committed suicide. "There has been no medicine for anyone", said Iiesha Rousell.

Yesterday afternoon people were crowded under the blazing sun as members of the National Guard escorted them on to coaches outside the building.

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Teresa Cherrie, 42, from Renfrew in Scotland, telephoned her daughter, Nicola Cherrie, 21, to tell her she was alive, but stuck on a roof with 10 other refugees, and had had to resort to looting in order to eat. Her daughter said: "She said they had a tin of ravioli and a packet of biscuits for their dinner tonight. They've had to loot supermarkets for food and scavenge what they can."

The Foreign Office said they had sent a team to Houston to help British embassy staff to identify Britons who had been evacuated from New Orleans.

* The musician Fats Domino, who was reported to be missing after the hurricane has been found safe. He and his family had taken shelter in the Superdome. The 77-year-old musician's agent Al Embry said the singer has since been moved to an unspecified location because of media attention.

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