KATRINA AFTERMATH Stragglers gently coaxed
International donors say U.S. bureaucracy is hindering shipments of supplies.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Using the unmistakable threat of force, police and soldiers went house to house Wednesday to try to coax the last 10,000 or so stubborn holdouts to leave storm-shattered New Orleans because of the risk of disease from the putrid, sewage-laden floodwaters.
A frail-looking 86-year-old Anthony Charbonnet grumbled as he locked his front door and walked slowly backward down the steps of the house where he had lived since 1955.
"I haven't left my house in my life," he said as soldiers took him to a helicopter. "I don't want to leave."
Mayor C. Ray Nagin ordered law officers and the military late Tuesday to evacuate all holdouts -- by force if necessary. He warned that the combination of fetid water, fires and natural-gas leaks after Hurricane Katrina made it too dangerous to stay.
In fact, the first government tests confirmed Wednesday that the amount of sewage-related bacteria in the floodwaters is at least 10 times higher than acceptable safety levels. Dr. Julie Gerberding, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned stragglers not to even touch the water and pleaded: "If you haven't left the city yet, you must do so."
Avoiding use of force
As of midday, there were no reports of anyone being removed by force. And it was not clear how the order would be carried out.
Active-military troops said they had no plans to use force. National Guard officers said they do not take orders from the mayor. And even the police said they were not ready to use force just yet. It appeared that the mere threat of force would be the first option.
"We have thousands of people who want to voluntarily evacuate at this time," Police Chief Eddie Compass said. "Once they are all out, then we'll concentrate our forces on mandatory evacuation."
Mindful of the bad publicity that could result from images of weary residents dragged out of their homes at gunpoint, Compass said that when his officers start using force, it will be the minimum amount necessary.
Counting the dead
Across miles of ravaged neighborhoods of clapboard houses, grand estates and housing projects, workers struggled to find and count corpses sniffed out by cadaver dogs in the 90-degree heat. The mayor has said New Orleans' death toll could reach 10,000. Already, a temporary warehouse morgue in rural St. Gabriel that had been prepared to take 1,000 bodies was being readied to handle 5,000.
The enormity of the disaster came ever-clearer in neighboring St. Bernard Parish, which was hit by a levee break that brought a wall of water up to 20 feet high. State Rep. Nita Hutter said 30 people died at a flooded nursing home in Chalmette when the staff left the elderly residents behind in their beds. And Rep. Charlie Melancon said more than 100 people died at a dockside warehouse while they waited for rescuers to ferry them to safety.
The floodwaters continued to recede, though slowly, with only 23 of the city's normal contingent of 148 pumps in operation, along with three portable pumps. The water in St. Bernard Parish had fallen 5 feet.
Because of the standing water, doctors were being urged to watch for diarrheal illnesses caused by such things as E. coli bacteria, certain viruses and a type of choleralike bacteria common along the warm Gulf Coast.
Given the extent of the misery, Louisiana's two U.S. senators -- Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter -- wrote a letter to Senate leaders Wednesday urging them to put aside partisan bickering in assigning blame over the federal response and focus on providing for victims.
"Please do not make the citizens of Louisiana a victim once again by allowing our immediate needs to be delayed by partisanship," they wrote.
Although some foreign aid is on the way to the United States, many international donors are complaining of frustration that bureaucratic entanglements are hindering shipments to the United States.
"We have to get some kind of signal [from the United States] in the next few days," said Karin Viklund of the Swedish Rescue Services Agency. "We really hope we will get it." Aside from water purification units, the country has offered blankets and mobile network equipment.
Swiss officials expected an answer to their aid offer by Tuesday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, supplies were still sitting in a warehouse outside Bern as authorities awaited a response, said Andreas Stauffer, spokesman for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The United States has accepted offers of nearly $1 billion in assistance from some 95 countries, said Harry K. Thomas Jr., the State Department's executive secretary. One of those rejected came from Iran.
Tehran offered to send 20 million barrels of crude oil if Washington waived trade sanctions, but Thomas said the offer was rejected because it was conditional.
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