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Evacuations, Relief Efforts Continue in New Orleans

Evacuations are still underway in New Orleans, devastated 10 days ago by Hurricane Katrina, as evacuees continue to be relocated.

The displaced residents are being bussed throughout the southern United States, some staying with families that have opened their homes to them, others living in temporary shelters provided by charities, businesses, and religious organizations.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, says evacuees will receive an electronic debit card that allows $2000 in purchases.

"The concept is to get them some cash in hand, which allows them, empowers them, to make their own decisions about what they need to have to start rebuilding their lives," Mr. Brown says.

Mr. Brown has been the target of vocal critics in Washington, and by some in Louisiana, who say his federal agency responded too slowly to the disaster, costing lives. Even the critics, however, are pleased with the massive relief effort now underway.

Authorities said Wednesday they are evacuating up to 10,000 residents who may remain in New Orleans. Many, exhausted and hungry, are anxious to go. But some have refused, and New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass says they will be forced to leave the city at some point.

"We have a mandatory evacuation in place," Mr. Compass says. "We have thousands of people who want to voluntarily evacuate at this time. We're using our resources right now to evacuate those who want to be evacuated."

Later, he says, authorities will use the force they need to get the holdouts to comply.

Officials can only guess at the cost of the disaster, both in human lives and in dollars. Only a few hundred deaths have been confirmed in Louisiana and Mississippi, but that number is expected to rise into the thousands. Art Jones of the Louisiana office of emergency preparedness says the monetary cost of Hurricane Katrina will be high.

"The total cost of this disaster will be the hugest in the history of any disaster we've ever known, and it will probably exceed $100 billion," he says.

He calls that a conservative estimate. Other estimates range to $150 billion and higher.

Much of New Orleans remains submerged, although the water level is dropping. Officials say it could take 80 days to drain the water from some places. Water-borne diseases are a threat until then, and later, fires will threaten the abandoned city.

Louisiana official Art Jones says structural engineers from the U.S. Army and civilian agencies will decide which buildings can be salvaged, and which must be demolished.

"The Corps of Engineers, the engineering architects and so forth, that's a decision we need to study," Mr. Jones says. "We're not to that point yet because the water is still up."

In the meantime, Gulf coast resident are coping. Forty five percent of the evacuees from New Orleans are in hotels and shelters in nearby Baton Rouge.

Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu says businesses are also relocating, bringing a boom to the smaller neighboring city, and giving a boost to the regional economy.

"Law firms, doctors offices, engineering firms are just trying to get their feet up under them again as they lift their employees and our community up," Ms. Landrieu says.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden says evacuees from New Orleans are welcome to stay as long as they need to.

"We're working with FEMA to place temporary housing as quickly as possible for those who are in shelters," Mayro Holden says. "We will then move quickly to establish permanent housing for those that want to stay in Baton Rouge."

And Louisiana officials say despite the devastation, New Orleans will be rebuilt, although no one is saying exactly when that will happen.