September 07, 2005 08:00 AM

With fires breaking out and disease outbreaks feared, New Orleans must be emptied of every single one of its residents, Mayor Ray Nagin reiterated Wednesday, with 10,000 people still remaining in the devastated city.

Despite threats of removal by force, some refuse to leave.

“I haven’t left my house in my life. I don’t want to leave,” a frail-looking Anthony Charbonnet, 86, told the Associated Press, shaking his head as he locked his front door of the house he’s occupied for 50 years.

Charbonnet was finally persuaded to vacate by a neighbor who assured him: “Things will be okay. It’ll be like a vacation.” Though still protesting, Charbonnet stepped into the ambulance as soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division took him to a helicopter.

As of midday Wednesday, there were no reports of anyone having to be ejected by force – yet.

“We have thousands of people who want to voluntarily evacuate at this time,” Police Chief Eddie Compass said. However, once they are safely removed, he warned, “then we’ll concentrate our forces on mandatory evacuation.”

“A lot of people don’t want to leave,” says Capt. Scott Powell of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who is trying to evacuate people by airboat. “They’ve got dogs and they just want to stay with their homes. They say they’re going to stay until the water goes down.”

In Washington, D.C., President Bush and Congress pledged Tuesday to open separate investigations into the federal response to Katrina and New Orleans’ broken levees.

Compass said lawlessness in the city “has subsided tremendously,” and officers warned that those caught looting in an area where the governor has declared an emergency can get up to 15 years in prison. About 124 prisoners filled a downtown jail set up at the city’s train and bus terminal, says AP.

Meanwhile, toxic floodwaters are receding inch by inch, in part because only five of New Orleans’ normal contingent of 148 drainage pumps were operating, the Army Corps of Engineers said.

Another problem appears to be that the water is full of debris – including corpses – and while there are filter screens on the pumps, it may be necessary to stop and clean them from time to time.

In a plea to those who might be listening to portable radios, Nagin warned that the tainted remaining floodwaters could carry disease and that natural gas was leaking all over town.

“This is not a safe environment,” Nagin said. “I understand the spirit that’s basically, ‘I don’t want to abandon my city.’ It’s okay. Leave for a little while. Let us get you to a better place. Let us clean the city up.”

Military policeman Captain Troy Armstrong and doctor Gary Schell greet residents Donald and Joan Civelo during a boat rescue mission in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. Civelo said he and his wife wanted to stay home.

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