The streets of this once vibrant city was ghostly silent Sunday after thousands of people had been removed by evacuation efforts during the past two days, and officials here began to slowly shift their efforts to gathering up those who died from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, speaking on a number of television programs in the morning, said that federal officials are in control of New Orleans and tried to deflect pointed questions of whether the initial federal response to the disaster was flawed.
He said officials are busy now dealing with the crisis and will have to wait to evaluate the problems of the past week.
"This is a tremendous medium-term and long-term challenge," Chertoff said on "Fox New Sunday." "We are basically moving the city of New Orleans to other parts of the country. We have to shelter people, we have to feed them, we have to educate their kids, we have to get them medium-term housing, and we've got to give them hope.
"So we are very much in the middle of the crisis, and we've got to continue to look forward, as well as continue with our ongoing operations."
Winds and storm surge from the hurricane swept across the Gulf region from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans last Monday, smashing homes, washing out roads, disrupting communications and energy production and eventually causing the breach of some of the levees that protected New Orleans. Much of that city still remains under water, although work continues on rebuilding the levees, and water in some of the areas is receding.
But in places such as the Superdome, where once thousands of angry residents waited for days for relief, it was quiet Sunday. People who had been hoping for rescue at the convention center and along highways were largely gone, too. Overnight, most of the people who had been brought to the airport -- many of them hospital patients or others who were sick or injured -- were also flown out to safety.
Still on Sunday, more residents continued to come out of neighborhoods looking for help and they were being evacuated.
Boat search-and-rescue operations were expanding Sunday, reaching many areas that they could not get to before. The Coast Guard asked residents seeking help to hang out brightly colored or white sheets or towels to signal a rescue. And helicopter crews continued to search across the city for others who needed rescue.
The storm and the rescue efforts have taken a toll on New Orleans police and firefighters, Mayor Ray Nagin said Sunday, according to the Associated Press. "I've got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized," he said. "And we've already had a couple of suicides so I am cycling them out as we speak, but we have a problem. I can get them to Baton Rouge, but once I get them to Baton Rouge there's no hospitals. They need physical and psychological evaluations."
Many people were still angry about how long it took to mobilize the relief effort. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, south of New Orleans, began to cry on NBC's "Meet the Press" as he related the story of a rescue official's mother who called repeatedly for help.
"The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything," Broussard said. "His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, 'Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' And he said, 'Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you.' Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night."
"We have been abandoned by our own country. . . ," Broussard said. "It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."
Officials from the Bush administration came to the region again to oversee the federal operation. Chertoff, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited with residents and relief workers in Louisiana and Alabama.
President Bush, in Washington, visited the headquarters of the American Red Cross to thank workers for their efforts and to encourage Americans to donate to the charity efforts.
Michael Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said in Washington that the death toll from the hurricane and the flooding is expected to run into the thousands. There is no confirmed toll yet from Louisiana, although officials said Sunday that they are beginning to make efforts to collect bodies. More than 160 people have been confirmed killed in Mississippi.
Chertoff declined to estimate how many people had died.
"I can't tell you what the numbers are going to be, but I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "What's going to happen when we de-water and remove the water from New Orleans is 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 streets."
Leavitt, speaking on CNN, said an outbreak of dysentery, an intestinal ailment frequently associated with major disasters when sanitary conditions break down, had been reported in Biloxi, Miss.
Chertoff told television interviewers that rescue personnel in New Orleans had encountered a number of people who do not want to leave the city, but that federal officials will insist that all people get out because of sanitation concerns.
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) said that he opposed that effort. About a quarter of the city that is on higher ground has been mostly unaffected, he said, and some residents are still living there.
He said Mayor Nagin believes that water will be restored to some unflooded parts of the city within the next 24 hours and electricity within a month to six weeks to those parts of the city. Forcing all New Orleans residents to leave would seriously damage the city's prospects for recovery, Jefferson said.
"I would hate to see a city that is dark and a ghost town," said Jefferson. "We can't stand still and let anybody tell us that the city should go dark."
Today, NAACP President Bruce Gordon called for the federal government to set up a federal fund to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, just as it had for the victims of 9/11.
"We spent over $7 billion that was distributed to the families of September 11, and this disaster in southeast United States is no less significant, no less disastrous," he said.
He also said that the NAACP is leading an effort to identify hundreds of Baptist churches within a 250-mile radius of New Orleans that will take in evacuees from the city.
Leaders from New Orleans have protested the mass shipments of evacuees out of state, saying that New Orleans residents should be able to remain in their home state.
Salmon reported from Baton Rouge, La., and Verdon from Washington.