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Soldiers, Police Scour New Orleans Looking for Living and Dead

  • Gary Thomas

Slowly receding flood waters in New Orleans have begun to give up the dead from Hurricane Katrina. The death toll is relatively low now, but officials are bracing for a high body count as water is pumped out from the city's streets. Meanwhile, police and troops are trying to get the last holdouts to leave New Orleans.

Troops and police patrolled the streets of New Orleans Thursday, looking for the living and the dead.

An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 residents are believed to remain in the flood-drenched city, refusing to leave despite deepening public health concerns about the now-toxic waters coursing through the city streets.

Speaking on NBC's Today Show, New Orleans Police Chief Edwin Compass said his force is concentrating on getting people out who want to get out. After that, he said, they will use force to get uncooperative residents to leave.

"My plan that I've put in place is to utilize our resources towards the voluntary evacuations," he said. "Once the voluntary evacuations are completed, then we will start the forced evacuations using the minimal amount of force for each individual case."

President Bush is asking Congress to allocate an additional $52 billion for Katrina relief on top of the $10.5 billion already earmarked for the effort.

The federal government's initial response to the disaster continues to spark criticism and political recrimination. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts says the haunting images of Katrina's aftermath beamed across the world should give rise to critical self-examination.

"We have watched a national disaster turned into a national catastrophe by a botched and inadequate response, despite the bravery and sacrifice of relief workers, rescue workers, and hurricane survivors themselves," he said.

Mike Delaney, director of humanitarian response for the U.S. branch of the international aid group Oxfam, which is aiding hurricane relief, told VOA his group had mistakenly assumed the U.S. government had sufficient planning and resources to handle the emergency.

"Up until now, we have been completely focused on international emergency response," he said. "As a result of Katrina and the gaps we're seeing in this response, we felt compelled to get involved and redirect our resources, our human resources and our financial resources, to right here in the United States."

But Vice President Dick Cheney, who toured afflicted areas Thursday, praised governmental relief efforts, saying officials had done what he termed a "phenomenal job."

"I think the progress we're making is significant," he said. "I think the performance in general, at least in terms of the information that I've received from locals, is definitely very impressive."

Thursday marked the 105th anniversary of what up to now has been the most deadly hurricane to hit the United States. An estimated 6,000 people died when a hurricane struck the Gulf port town of Galveston, Texas without warning on September 8, 1900. No one knows what the final death toll will be from Katrina, but officials fear its death toll could surpass that of the Galveston storm.

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