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Grim Task of Recovering Dead Continues in New Orleans

With most of New Orleans now emptied of its inhabitants, relief workers began focusing on the grim task of recovering the bodies of the dead. There is hope that initial estimates of the death toll may not prove to be accurate.

City officials said troops, National Guard, and police began a house-by-house search Friday to find the remains of those killed by Hurricane Katrina.

Initial estimates from officials were that as many as 10,000 people may have died in New Orleans from the storm and flooding. But Colonel Terry Ebbert, the city's chief of emergency operations, says first recovery efforts have found fewer bodies than expected and give rise to hope that the death toll may not go that high. "There's some encouragement in what we've found in the initial sweeps that some of the catastrophic death that some people predicted may not in fact have occurred," he said.

Colonel Ebbert said the search would be conducted with dignity, and no media would be allowed to cover the recovery effort. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already asked that there be no news photographs of bodies and it has barred reporters from accompanying rescue boats searching for storm victims.

Officials say most people have now been evacuated from New Orleans, and those who remain amid the filthy, now-toxic flood waters will be removed by force if needed.

Aid and assistance has been coming in from around the country and around the world to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. NATO nations Friday approved the use of alliance ships and aircraft to rush European aid to U.S. regions hit by Hurricane Katrina.

President Bush noted that money came even from impoverished countries like Sri Lanka, which was itself devastated by last year's tsunami, and thanked contributing nations. "In all, more than a hundred countries have stepped forward with offers of assistance and additional pledges of support are coming in every day. To every nation and every province and every local community across the globe that is standing with the American people and those who hurt along the Gulf coast, our entire nation thanks you for your support," he said.

However, the U.S. government response to the disaster, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has been criticized as tardy. The top management of FEMA, including director Michael Brown, has also come under fire for their relative lack of experience in disaster management.

On Friday, Mr. Brown was recalled to Washington from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but he retains his post as head of FEMA. Vice-Admiral Thad Allen, chief of staff of the U.S. Coast Guard, was tapped to replace him as the direct day-to-day manager of Katrina relief operations.

In making the announcement, Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff expressed his satisfaction with Mr. Brown's work, and said Mr. Brown is needed back in Washington to oversee all of FEMA during the height of hurricane season. "I think Katrina will go down as the largest natural disaster in American history. Mike Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge. I appreciate his work, as does everyone here," he said.

Congress has already appropriated more than $62 billion in disaster aid. President Bush has not ruled out asking for more funds as the price tag for Katrina goes higher.