New Orleans Steps Up Evacuations

By Peter Slevin and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 5, 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 4 -- With much of central New Orleans finally cleared of hurricane refugees, search teams widened operations Sunday to outlying streets, moving house to house with orders to evacuate all remaining residents from the city.

Determined to reestablish order, police shot several people and killed at least two after gunmen opened fire at or near a group of contractors traveling across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said.

Mortuary teams also began the gruesome task of collecting corpses still floating in floodwaters, trapped inside buildings or abandoned on highways after the devastating storm that deluged the city a week ago. Officials warned that the death count -- which Louisiana officials put at 59 on Sunday -- is sure to rise exponentially.

"I think it's evident it's in the thousands," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Sunday on CNN before he headed to the area, echoing predictions made last week by city and state officials.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on "Fox News Sunday": "We need to prepare the country for what's coming."

"We are going to uncover people who died, maybe hiding in houses, you know, got caught by the flood -- people whose remains are going to be found in the street."

Louisiana officials again accused the Bush administration of being slow to respond to the flooding of New Orleans and then trying to shift the blame to state and local governments.

Chertoff, along with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the storm-ravaged region, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Mobile, in her native state of Alabama. But at a news conference and in TV interviews, Chertoff declined to get drawn into discussions of the government's initial response efforts, trying instead to keep the focus on major challenges ahead.

Although some water has drained out of the city, a significant amount of New Orleans remains deep underwater. Officials predict that drainage operations will require weeks or months.

Many of the tourist sites in New Orleans appeared relatively unscathed. Sunday afternoon, a caretaker swept the leaves from in front of Cafe Du Monde, a city landmark. Elsewhere in the French Quarter, residents and shopkeepers tended to their buildings. The mansions along St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District showed little damage, most of it to trees.

Dan Packer, president and CEO of Entergy New Orleans, said Sunday afternoon that he expected to bring lights to at least parts of downtown by that night. "I feel confident that a part of the central business district will be lit up tonight and the rest tomorrow," he said. "As the city drains, we're going to get fixing."

Other parts of the city, including New Orleans East, Lakeview and the Ninth Ward, still lie submerged.

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