Mayor of New Orleans OKs forced evacuations
NEW ORLEANS – As flood waters receded inch by inch Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin authorized law enforcement officers and the U.S. military to force the evacuation of all residents who refuse to heed orders to leave the dark, dangerous city.Nagin’s emergency declaration released late Tuesday targets those still in the city unless they have been designated by government officials as helping with the relief effort.The move comes after some citizens bluntly told authorities who had come to deliver them from the flooded metropolis that they would not leave their homes and property. An estimated 10,000 residents are believed to still be in New Orleans, and some have been holed up in their homes for more than a week.While acknowledging the emergency declaration, police Capt. Marlon Defillo said late Tuesday that forced removal of citizens had not yet begun. He said that officers who were visiting homes were still reminding people that police may not be able to rescue them if they stay.”That would be a P.R. nightmare for us,” Defillo said of any forced evacuations. “That’s an absolute last resort.”Repeated telephone calls to Nagin’s spokeswoman, Tami Frazier, seeking comment were not returned.Meanwhile, engineers struggled to drain the saucer of a city of billions of gallons of water, a Herculean task that could take weeks – if they are lucky.The Army Corps of Engineers said the timetable ranges from three weeks to nearly three months, depending on a string of variables, including rainfall, the still-unknown condition of the pumps abandoned to Hurricane Katrina, and whether the system can withstand the flotsam of broken buildings, trees, trash and corpses.Work has also been impeded by sporadic gunfire coming from “criminals with guns,” said Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Corps’ chief district engineer.The contractors are “getting used to it and that’s pretty scary,” Wagenaar said.Despite complications, “we have to get the water out of the city or the nightmare will continue,” said Louisiana Environmental Secretary Mike McDaniel. He said the water will be pumped into Lake Pontchartrain even though it is fouled with sewage, heavy metals, gasoline and other dangerous substances.The pumping began after the Corps used hundreds of sandbags and rocks over the Labor Day weekend to close a 200-foot gap in the 17th Street Canal levee that burst in the aftermath of the storm and swamped 80 percent of this below sea-level city.