The headlines are horrid and, looking back, bitterly ironic:

“Mob Rule in the New Orleans Convention Center”

“Nightmarish Scenes at New Orleans Convention Center”

“People Dying at New Orleans Convention Center”

It is hard to reconcile that this hell hole is the same facility that was so decked-out and inviting as host of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.'s annual convention Jan 29-Feb.1.

Who would have thought then — amid the Mardi Gras party atmosphere, the receptions and the orderly rows of colorful displays in the 1.1-million-sq.-ft. exhibition hall — that the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center would became a grisly symbol of the plight of Hurricane Katrina's victims.

Desperate people needing evacuation went there for refuge, but found corpses, disorder and a facility unable to provide for the waves of humanity that beset it.

“Right now we are out of resources at the convention center and don't anticipate enough buses,” said Mayor Ray Nagin, referring to transportation efforts to get the evacuees out of the flooded city.

The scenes of grim people clustered at the convention center awaiting insufficient bus transportation was in grim contrast to the streams of buses that took cheerful NADA conventioneers to and from the convention center where they mingled with friends and colleagues.

Among the NADA speakers back then was American-born Queen Noor of Jordan. In her address, she voiced the need for compassion and generosity throughout the world.

People listening to her in the hall that day couldn't realize that seven months later compassion and generosity would be so needed, right there.