Sanitation workers clad in protective suits and respirators yesterday began loading flood debris that may be contaminated with dioxin into trucks that have been immobilized by a court order.

Using a backhoe, workers began loading the smelly rubble at about 2:45 p.m. into one of a dozen tractor-trailers parked at the site.

Missouri Gov. Christopher Bond earlier said the decision to pick up the debris came at a meeting hours before among himself, acting Times Beach Mayor Sidney Hammer and Lee Thomas, recently appointed head of a federal task force to assist the troubled town.

"We believe we could begin this weekend to pick up the trash and put it in the trucks, even though they would not move until the temporary restraining order is dissolved," Bond told reporters. "That at least would reduce the health hazard in Times Beach."

Fred Lafser, director of the state department of natural resources, said the workers would be given the go-ahead to begin filling a dozen trucks with debris that presents the greatest health hazard, leaving isolated mounds of rubble until last.

About 800 truckloads of silt-covered rubble remain in the town as the result of Dec. 6 flooding. Some of the soil in town has shown high levels of dioxin, one of the most poisonous chemicals known to man, which was sprayed on the streets of Times Beach during the 1970s.

The latest obstacle is a temporary restraining order received by officials in Warren County on Friday night that blocks dumping of the waste at their landfill, the state's only licensed hazardous waste disoposal site.

Bond said Missouri Attorney General John Ashcroft and his aides were working on legal action to dissolve the restraining order.