As evidence floods, criminal cases likely collapse Basement also housed thousands of appeals By Michael Perlstein and Trymaine D. Lee New Orleans criminal justice officials cringed Wednesday at another disaster evolving in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: the possible long-term collapse of the citys criminal justice system. With the flooding of the police departments evidence and property room in the basement of police headquarters, evidence and records in hundreds of criminal cases appeared to be irretrievably lost, police spokesman Marlon Defillo said. Evidence in the most serious, pending cases, from murder to rape to robbery, was housed in the basement, Defillo said. We lost thousands of documents and untold evidence, Defillo said. We lost everything. The floodwaters in the basement of criminal court at Tulane Avenue and Broad Street also inundated old evidence in thousands of old cases under appeal. The lost evidence could reopen cases that otherwise had little chance of getting back into trial court. Were in serious trouble, Defillo said. Officials averted a separate crisis by transporting about 3,000 inmates out of Orleans Parish Prison. Under heavy armed guard, inmates who lined Interstate 10 above the flooded surface streets were loaded onto buses from the Dixon Correctional Center and other state lockups. While the inmates were successfully evacuated, the ongoing shutdown of criminal court could lead to the unavoidable release of dozens of suspects awaiting charges. By law, suspects must be tried within 30 days of a misdemeanor arrest and within 45 days of a felony arrest or they are automatically released from any bond obligation. Even with the potential long-range problems facing the court system, officials were more concerned Wednesday with citywide crimes and looting sprouting amid the storms chaotic aftermath. Terry Ebbert, the citys homeland security director, said police received numerous reports of armed groups of marauders robbing scores of people throughout the hard-hit parts of the city. Authorities were unable to patrol the most lawless areas of the city, and it appeared police had little chance of investigating much of the unchecked crime.