The population of New Orleans, which had been nearly half a million people before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, was estimated to be down to 5,000 final holdouts on Friday morning, as authorities sweep the deluged city for the last voluntary evacuees before those remaining are forcibly removed.
“The ones who wanted to leave, I would say most of them are out,” Detective Sgt. James Imbrogglio tells the Associated Press.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Rule said his crew pulled 18 holdouts from their homes on Thursday. Some refused to vacate unless they could take their pets.
“It’s getting to the point where they’re delirious,” Rule said. “A couple of them don’t know who they were. They think the water will go down in a few days.”
Police Chief Eddie Compass said officers would exert a “minimum amount of force” to persuade the last of the stragglers to evacuate. Although no one was forcibly removed Thursday, some residents said they left under extreme pressure.
“They were all insisting that I had to leave my home,” said Shelia Dalferes, who said she had 15 minutes to pack before she and her husband were evacuated. “The implication was there with their plastic handcuffs on their belt. Who wants to go out like that?”
Within the city, toxic floodwaters continue to recede, albeit slowly. The task of collecting rotting corpses and clearing debris is expected to last for months.
On Thursday, officials raised the death toll in Louisiana to 118, though New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has estimated that some 10,000 could be dead in that city alone. State officials have ordered 25,000 body bags.
Authorities are now faced with the challenge of how to identify bodies that may be bloated and decayed beyond recognition. At two collection sites, federal mortuary teams were collecting information that may help identify the bodies, such as where they were found. Personal effects were also being logged.