The Federal Emergency Management Agency pulled all its workers out of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward yesterday after threats of violence and planned to request additional police or National Guard support, a FEMA spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor C. Ray Nagin said the police commander for the district knew of no incidents or threat complaints.
The Lower Ninth Ward was reopened Thursday; it was the last neighborhood in the city to remain closed as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Residents, who had been limited to bus tours, were allowed to reenter homes, inspect damage and retrieve items but not stay in the area, which still lacks electricity.
But U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers near levees and FEMA workers -- who were on hand to help remove debris, set up disaster service centers and coordinate relief -- received numerous threats, said FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews. About 20 FEMA workers were withdrawn from the area, Andrews said.
"It's unfortunate that threats of violence would be made against anyone, as we all work together to recover from this disaster," Andrews said. "The first priority is to protect and ensure the safety of FEMA workers. There are a lot of employees working hard . . . to help folks return to their homes and ensure they are receiving the assistance they are eligible for under the law."
Andrews said local FEMA workers planned to seek an increased presence by local or federal law enforcement or Guard troops before resuming their duties.
But Tami Frazier, a spokeswoman for Nagin, said the New Orleans Police Department commander in charge of the area reported no incidents, complaints or removal of anyone for making threats. "We have stated . . . that we would have guards out there and police officers escorting people during this time," Frazier said, "but there has not been an increase in police or guardsmen."
One relief worker in the region said an angry resident berated a Corps of Engineers employee before delivering a threat to the effect of "I'm going to go get my gun, and I'm going to kill you." Federal agents have arrested six people in the New Orleans area in recent weeks for making threats against FEMA workers, who have been advised against wearing clothing with the agency logo in public.
A New Orleans Police spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.