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Floodwaters Continue to Recede in New Orleans

The floodwaters are receding in New Orleans, but the city remains extremely dangerous. The mayor is warning the remaining holdouts who refuse to evacuate to leave or risk being taken out by force. Meanwhile, Congress, returned from its August recess, is making the disaster its top priority.

Pumps were working overtime Wednesday to remove the fetid water from the streets of New Orleans. Even so, estimates are that it may take as long as 80 days for the city to be dry again.

In the meantime, New Orleans remains a dangerous place, primarily due to the water standing in the city's streets that has been so fouled by industrial, human, and chemical waste that it is now considered toxic. Still, some 10,000 stubborn residents have resisted orders to evacuate. City officials say they may order their forcible removal if they do not leave voluntarily.

The disaster looks to consume much of the attention of the U.S. Congress, just returned from its August recess. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist presided over a rare public meeting of Senate committee chairmen Wednesday to have them air their committees' responses to the disaster.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said earlier that government had failed, as she put it, on all levels. On Wednesday, she said her committee will begin public hearings next week. A day earlier, President Bush said he would lead his own investigation into the Federal response. Ms. Collins said her committee will first focus on immediate needs in the disaster rather than what has come to be called the blame game.

"The first hearing will focus on what we should be doing right now, how can we assist the recovery,” said Ms. Collins. “Ultimately, we will be having a series of hearings to find out if we could better improve our response."

Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged President Bush to centralize relief efforts.

"I strongly recommend that we suggest to the administration that they quickly decide on some kind of an executive headquarters and chief recovery person so that all this effort can be coordinated," he said.

Hurricane Katrina struck along the Gulf Coast of the United States early August 29 with stunning ferocity. It laid waste to whole communities and submerged some 80 percent of the low-lying city of New Orleans. The death toll is still unknown, but officials have voiced fears that it could be in the thousands.

The White House and Congress are working on funding levels for another emergency aid package for Katrina's victims. The president signed a $10.5 billion aid package last week. But that money is being quickly spent, say officials, and the new package may be four to five times as much.