- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Cadaver dogs and boatloads of forensic workers fanned out yesterday across New Orleans to collect the corpses left behind by Hurricane Katrina. Cleanup crews towed away abandoned cars and even began readying a hotel for reopening.

Despite missing 300 officers from his 1,750-strong force, Police Chief Eddie Compass was upbeat as he reported that 200 arrests had been made since the hurricane.

“We are definitely in control of this city,” Chief Compass said. “We’ve been almost crime-free for the last four days.”

The confirmed death toll in Louisiana stood at 154 persons, including some patients on life support who died when power went out, but the toll was expected to climb as crews collected bodies trapped in houses and floating in murky water. Police and military officials have been marking the location of bodies with Global Positioning System devices and paint on the outside of houses.

Around the city center, crews began cleaning the mounds of trash and other debris strewn by the hurricane and by fleeing residents.

Bulldozers pushed heaps of chairs, sleeping bags and other discarded items into giant piles at the convention center, the chaotic site where thousands initially took refuge before being evacuated a week ago. Dump trucks were hauling the debris away.

At the Superdome, where thousands first sought shelter only to be trapped inside by the floodwaters, water levels had dropped markedly. Water that once submerged cars parked around the dome had dropped to about a foot deep.

A group of police, doctors and National Guardsmen inspected Charity Hospital, where doctors and patients had been stranded in rising floodwaters.

Doctors hoped to be able to reopen it to help treat skin infections, dehydration and other illnesses, said Dr. Jeffrey Kochan, who is overseeing medical services in New Orleans. But they found the basement full of water, meaning electricity couldn’t be restored.

An airport official said yesterday that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will reopen to commercial traffic Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina shut down the city. The airport authority said cargo flights would resume immediately.

Thousands of residents continued to defy orders to leave the city, but security forces were not physically forcing anyone to go. Mayor C. Ray Nagin warned earlier that residents could be forcibly removed, but authorities have been reluctant to take that step.

Throughout the city, searchers were picking up bodies.

A team in white protective suits pulled at least eight body bags from Bethany Home, a century-old center for senior citizens.

At the grand stone entrance of City Park, in the heart of New Orleans, workers took out two bodies: one partially submerged in water and another covered in a blanket and marked with orange paint, indicating searchers had previously reported it. A walker, a bag of clothes and a life jacket were nearby.

Crews from Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams, a group of volunteer medical professionals called in by the federal government for disasters, processed the bodies and took them away in refrigerated trucks.

The teams have set up a field morgue in St. Gabriel, a tiny community between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where a chain-link fence shrouded in black plastic now sits near City Hall, hiding the morgue operation from onlookers.

Officials were processing bodies around the clock.

“The ability to capture useful information from that body diminishes from week to week, month to month,” said Terry Edwards, director of the morgue.

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney toured Hurricane Katrina shelter operations in Austin, Texas, praising the state’s efforts to assist evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

At the Austin Convention Center, where 1,500 evacuees remained, Mr. Cheney met briefly with 23-year-old Telisha Diaz, who told him she spent four days at the New Orleans convention center before being brought to Austin a week ago.

“It’s overwhelming that the state of Texas is giving so much, just giving us everything — jobs, food,” Miss Diaz told the vice president, who was surrounded by local officials and congressmen.

Mr. Cheney said her sentiments of gratitude were echoed by all of the evacuees he had spoken with in the two weeks since the hurricane.

“I was impressed with the caliber of the effort that was mounted here, and it’s a good place to come learn some valuable lessons,” he said.

President Bush used his weekly radio address yesterday to vow that Americans will come together and make the Gulf Coast “more vibrant than ever,” just as they rebuilt after the devastation brought by the terrorist attacks four years ago this weekend.

Mr. Bush plans today to mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks by remembering the victims of that tragedy and Hurricane Katrina.

“Our greatest resource in such times is the compassionate character of the American people, because even the most destructive storm cannot weaken the heart and soul of our nation,” the president said in his address.

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