More stragglers seemed willing to flee the filthy water and stench of death as increasingly insistent rescuers made what may be their last peaceful pass through swamped New Orleans before using force.
“Some are finally saying, ‘I’ve had enough’,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Michael Keegan said. “They’re getting dehydrated. They are running out of food. There are human remains in different houses. The smells mess with your psyche.”
Across a flooded city where as many as 10,000 people were believed 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, getting tough.
Police said they were 80% finished with their scan of the city for voluntary evacuees, after which they planned to begin carrying out mayor Ray Nagin’s order to forcibly remove remaining residents from a city filled with disease-carrying water, broken gas lines and rotting corpses.
“The ones who wanted to leave, I would say most of them are out,” said Det Sgt James Imbrogglio. “There may be a few left, so we’re going to go check one of our last areas that’s underwater 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 chief Eddie Compass. “We are going to be sensitive. We are going to use the minimum amount of force.”
The near-conclusion of the voluntary evacuation came as receding floodwaters revealed still more rotting corpses. Nagin has said the death toll in New Orleans alone could reach 10,000, and state officials were ordering 25,000 body bags.
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 axe up to where a guy had tried to stick a pipe up through a vent,” 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.”
On other bodies his group encountered, he said: “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 Patucci, coroner of St Bernard Parish, said the nursing home staff apparently believed 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 compiled a final list of missing people.
The Army Corps of Engineers said the city was still about 60% flooded – down from as much as 80% last week – but was slowly being drained by 37 of the 174 pumps in the Orleans, St Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, and 17 portable pumps. Together, those pumps can move 11,000 cubic feet of water 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.