To the estimated 10,000 residents still believed to be holed up in this ruined city, the mayor had a blunt new warning: Get out now — or risk being taken out by force.
As floodwaters began to slowly recede with the city's first pumps returning to operation, Mayor C. Ray Nagin authorized law enforcement officers and the U.S. military to force the evacuation of all residents who refuse to heed orders to leave.
The city faces the new threat of floodwaters that have become a toxic stew of chemical and biological waste, and growing concern over oil and gas leaks, reports CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. Authorities fear an explosion, with no running water to fight fires.
"Helicopters attack them like forest fires, filling up in the Mississippi, dropping load after load on the flames," reports CBS News correspondent John Roberts.
Police Capt. Marlon Defillo said that forced removal of citizens had not yet begun. "That's an absolute last resort," he said.
Nagin's order targets those still in the city unless they have been designated as helping with the relief effort. Repeated calls to Nagin's spokeswoman, Tami Frazier, seeking comment were not returned.
The move — which supersedes an earlier, milder order to evacuate made before Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore Aug. 29 — comes after rescuers scouring New Orleans found hundreds of people willing to defy repeated urgings to get out.
They included people like Dennis Rizzuto, 38, who said he had plenty of water, food to last a month and a generator powering his home. He and his family were offered a boat ride to safety, but he declined.
"They're going to have to drag me," Rizzuto said.
That's a sentiment Capt. Scott Powell, of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, has heard before as he tries to evacuate people by air boat.
"A lot of people don't want to leave. 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," he said.
Although many states and cities across the country have sent police and firefighters to New Orleans, evacuating the city's holdouts may be best left to the Crescent City's own emergency workers.
"When we were down in the French Quarter trying to get some of the people out there yesterday, the people that lived there didn't give particularly a kind eye to someone from the outside saying you have to get out," reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan. "But when someone from the New Orleans police department showed up, they understood, they chatted a little bit. They both have something in common, unfortunately, in these circumstances."
The flood of political recriminations and maneuvering is under way, reports CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras. Democrats are calling for an independent commission.
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.
"FEMA worked well during the Clinton administration as an independent agency with someone in charge who had a lot of experience responding to emergencies," said New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton on
The pumping began after the Corps used hundreds of sandbags and rocks over the Labor Day weekend to close a 200-foot gap in the 17th Street Canal levee that burst in the aftermath of the storm and swamped 80 percent of this below-sea-level city.
Although toxic flood waters receded inch by inch, only five of New Orleans' normal contingent of 148 drainage pumps were operating, the Army Corps of Engineers said.
How long it takes to drain the city could depend on the condition of the pumps — especially whether they were submerged and damaged, the Corps said. Also, the water is full of debris, and while there are 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 fetid floodwater 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 OK. Leave for a little while. Let us get you to a better place. Let us clean the city up."
To that end, the Pentagon began sending 5,000 paratroopers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division to use small boats to launch a new search-and-rescue effort in flooded sections of the city.
Some people may already be heeding the mayor's message. After surviving for days in New Orleans, Johnnie Lee MacGuire finally accepted an offer to evacuate.
"It's too filthy. Look at that — the fish is dead, you got dead dogs, you got dead people around there," the 66-year-old said.
Floodwaters also had receded from St. Bernard Parish southeast of New Orleans, but it was still a disaster scene with bedroom dressers and hot tubs scattered on roofs, toilet seats dangling in tree limbs and cars overturned in driveways. Water gurgled and spouted where natural gas seeped from below.
The effort to accurately catalogue Mississippi's toll was struggling to keep up with the decaying effect of 90-degree heat.
Even when cadaver dogs pick up a scent, workers say they frequently can't get at the bodies without heavy equipment. That's leading officials to estimate that more than 1,000 people could be dead.
"The state doesn't know the answer," said Lea Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "I know people don't want to hear that, but we just don't know."
"We get a lot of information about New Orleans, but I don't even know how bad Alabama and Mississippi are," said Darryl Moch, 32, of Portland, Oregon, who has tried for days to locate his best friend, Leon Harvey Packer, of Biloxi. "How bad was Mississippi hit? What's the number of people displaced? What's the estimated damage?"