Neighborhoods remain underwater after Hurricane Katrina. Gunfire menaces New Orleans. Victims wait to be rescued. Unknown thousands may be dead or dying.
That's why, for now, prominent Republicans and Democrats -- including President Bush, Louisiana's Democratic governor, New Orleans' Democratic mayor and the state's bipartisan U.S. Senate delegation -- are on emergency footing and working toward a common cause.
"I hope people don't … play politics during this period of time," President Bush said Thursday on "Good Morning America."
"This is a natural disaster, the likes of which our country may have never seen before, and it's a national emergency. What we need to do as a nation is come together to solve the problem and not play politics."
Still, he added, "There'll be ample time for politics."
Ultimately, government responses to natural disasters and other catastrophic events have proven to be political.
For instance, some blame President George H.W. Bush's response to Hurricane Andrew in Florida for his subsequent loss to Bill Clinton in 1992. And the current President Bush and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani saw their popularity soar following their leadership after the 9/11 attacks.
Bush already has made comparisons to 9/11.
"New Orleans is more devastated than New York was, and just physically devastated," Bush told Diane Sawyer on "GMA."
Observers agree it may be too soon to determine Katrina's ultimate political winners and losers. But as the anger of local residents and officials over the federal response coalesced Thursday afternoon, one analyst suggested a political hornets' nest over Katrina may be closer than other experts initially expected.
"The people are angry that they're displaced," said Pearson Cross, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "People are angry that they had to wait in line, that they couldn't get gas, that they had to leave home, that their things are ruined. … That anger is ultimately going to turn into campaign issues."
Anger and frustration continue to boil. Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans' emergency operations, complained that federal efforts in the city, particularly among displaced persons at the Louisiana Superdome, amounted to "a national disgrace."
"FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control," Ebbert said, according to The Associated Press. "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
The displacement of citizens could rearrange Louisiana's demographics, Cross said. Local anger could topple incumbents. The disaster may even jolt national politics, he added.
"It's kind of a clarion call to reorganize priorities for the United States, suggesting that the United States' mission at home is far from over," Cross said. "I wouldn't be surprised if candidates said, 'Look, we're running around the world trying to solve problems when we have problems at home that are just as urgent.' "
Initially, as with 9/11, analysts said Wednesday and Thursday, Americans might turn to Bush, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and other leaders for comfort.