He is someone's loved one. He may have said a prayer as he flailed against the tide, or cried for help as he heaved his portly frame through the rising torrent, searching for high ground. But no one answered. Now his body floats in the fetid floodwaters of New Orleans, rocked by passing rescue boats that speed back and forth. Their priority is to save lives; there is no time to lay the dead to rest. So the man in blue jeans and maroon polo shirt who bobs face down in 2 metres of water on Airline Drive will remain just another harrowing feature of this city's apocalyptic landscape. There are undoubtedly so many more, uncounted and unseen. The air is rank with the smell of decay. Perhaps the survivors - some waving away the rescue boats, refusing to leave in the mistaken belief that the water will disperse in a day or two - will finally realise the enormity of their predicament if they could only see the corpses. As we skim along Airline and onto Tulane Drive in an airboat, we pass over the roofs of sunken cars and through a sea of waterborne refrigerators from an appliance store. We are level with the tops of road signs and lamp posts. We encounter survivors by the dozen, lolling at their first-floor windows, perspiring in the heat. Many are grateful to jump into the boat, or swim through their front doors to reach us. But others shake their heads and shrug, unable to grasp the fact that evacuation is their only hope, unable to contemplate the months of upheaval that await them if they leave, oblivious to the fact that eventually they will die if they don't. 'I'm not stranded - I have a roof over my head,' says one woman as Harold Speed, a volunteer airboat operator who has come from Oklahoma to assist the search and rescue effort, manoeuvres his boat alongside her window sill. Giving her name only as Tina and introducing her husband Will - whom she married two weeks ago - she says she still has some bottled gas left and is busy cooking French fries on her stove. At night, they sit around a flickering candle saying their prayers together. She has heard on the radio that there was violence at the Superdome where 20,000 people were temporarily trapped - but have now been evacuated - and prefers to stay where she is. She is unfazed to hear the water surrounding her may still be here in 30 days. 'In the Bible, the land was flooded for 40 days and 40 nights and God chose those who survived,' says Tina. 'I'm trusting Him. He never let me down yet.' It is a frustrating scene for volunteers like Mr Speed and Del Powell, riding next to him with a pistol strapped to his leg in case we run into the gangs that have been terrorising some areas. 'There's a fine line between faith and stupidity,' he mutters, as Tina spurns help. Others follow suit - a man wading in water nearly up to his shoulders by City Hall, who says he cannot leave because his wife wants to stay in their house with their pet dog; a family camped on their first-floor balcony in Baudin Street with an awning to protect them from the scorching sun, an old man in Claiborne Street who shuffles to his window smoking a cigarette and tells Mr Speed: 'Bless you for coming ... but no thanks.' Several boatmen are refusing to hand out water, hoping thirst will ultimately force naivety to give way to logic. 'If you give them water, they'll never leave,' says Bruce Barton, from Pennsylvania, a volunteer boatman with Rescue International. 'Death is just along the road for these people if they stay here.' For some, it is not just stubbornness. After several days in or above the water, often with little or nothing to eat or drink, and with many still unaware that it is not just their own little neighbourhood that has sunk - but a whole city - some are losing their minds. 'Delirium's setting in. My men have pulled people out of their homes jabbering about aliens. One woman wouldn't let go of a cushion; she said there was someone inside it who needed saving and the guys had to unzip the cover and show her there was no one there,' says Harvey Schindler, fire chief for Jefferson parish. He has arrived at 444 Forshey Street with two of his men to find an elderly couple. Our team pulls up to help. Inside, the couple are sitting blithely at their kitchen table, water up to their knees. Ornaments, lamps and family photographs are floating around them, along with the contents of their overflowing lavatory. Yet they are arguing with their rescuers. 'They're fighting us in there,' says a firefighter. Eventually, they are persuaded. Their pet dachshund, who had sought refuge on the table, is put into a basket and settled on the boat and the white-haired man follows suit. He perches on the edge of the boat, takes off his spectacles, hangs his head and cries quietly. His wife is still indoors, refusing to budge until she has put on a dress. Eventually she settles for a pink robe, but insists on scooping up the contents of her dresser drawer, including a rosary and a picture of the Virgin Mary, before she will let the firemen carry her out. She is pale, frail and has to be lifted into the boat. 'Those guys might never see that house again,' sighs Mr Schindler. 'It's hard for them to comprehend, it's hard for us to comprehend.'