- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — More stragglers seemed willing to flee the filthy water and stench of death yesterday as increasingly insistent rescuers made what may be their last peaceful pass through swamped New Orleans before using force.

Some holdouts who have stayed in the city since Hurricane Katrina swept through finally are saying that they have had enough, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Michael Keegan.

“They’re getting dehydrated. They are running out of food. There are human remains in different houses. The smells mess with your psyche,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ongoing evacuation and the continuing success in pumping water out of the city began to reveal the grim toll as receding floodwaters allowed workers to begin gathering rotting corpses. The official death toll neared 300 yesterday, with Mississippi recording 201 deaths and Louisiana 83. New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has said the death toll in New Orleans alone could reach 10,000, and state officials were ordering 25,000 body bags.

Across a flooded city where as many as 10,000 or so people were thought to be stubbornly staying put, police made it clear in orders barked from front porches and through closed doors that they would return — next time, with force.

Police said they were 80 percent done with their scan of the city for voluntary evacuees, after which they planned to begin carrying out Mr. Nagin’s order to forcibly remove remaining residents from a city filled with disease-carrying water, broken gas lines and floating corpses.

“The ones who wanted to leave, I would say most of them are out,” said Detective Sgt. James Imbrogglio. “There may be a few left, so we’re going to go check one of our last areas that’s under water today, and then hopefully that will be it.”

The job of carrying out the mayor’s order was left largely to the 1,000 or so remaining members of New Orleans’ beleaguered police force.

“We are not going to be rough,” said Police Superintendent Eddie Compass. “We are going to be sensitive. We are going to use the minimum amount of force.”

Volunteer rescuer Gregg Silverman, part of a 14-boat contingent from Columbus, Ohio, said he expected to find many more survivors in his excursion through the city’s flooded streets. Instead, he found mostly bodies.

“They had me climb up on a roof, and I did bring an ax up to where a guy had tried to stick a pipe up through a vent,” Mr. Silverman said. “Unfortunately, he had probably just recently perished. His dog was still there, barking. The dog wouldn’t come. We had to leave the dog just up there in the attic.”

As for other bodies his group encountered: “Obviously, we are not recovering them. We are just tying them up to banisters, leaving them on the roof.”

At St. Rita’s Nursing Home in the town of Chalmette, authorities struggled to identify as many as 30 residents who may have perished.

Dr. Bryan Bertucci, coroner of St. Bernard Parish, said the nursing home staff apparently thought it was more dangerous to move the residents than keep them at the building. He said it may be impossible to identify all the victims until authorities compile a final list of missing persons.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the city was still about 60 percent flooded — down from as much as 80 percent last week — but slowly was being drained by 37 of the 174 pumps in the Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes and 17 portable pumps. They can pump out 11,000 cubic feet per second, roughly equal to 432 Olympic-size swimming pools per hour.

Engineers said the mammoth undertaking could take months, and could be complicated by corpses getting clogged in the pumps.

“It’s got a huge focus of our attention right now,” said John Rickey of the Army Corps of Engineers. “Those remains are people’s loved ones.”

At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, now a bustling military encampment, the New Orleans City Council met for the first time since Katrina, with members defending how they handled the disaster and defiantly vowing to rebuild.

“New Orleans has been built back from many disasters,” said council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. “New Orleans was here before there was a United States of America.”

About 400,000 homes in the city are without power, with no immediate prospect of getting it back. Where water has been restored, it is not drinkable. The city is still dangerous — not primarily from armed criminals, as it was last week, but from the sewage-laden floodwaters, which are thought to contain E. coli and other dangerous germs.

Fires were also a continuing problem. At least 11 blazes burned across the city yesterday, including a rash of fires that raged across the campus of Dillard University, destroying three large buildings.

Yesterday in Houston, police were called in for crowd control when hundreds of Katrina refugees crowded outside the Astrodome, waiting in line for debit cards promised to storm survivors.


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