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Cops, troops warn holdouts in New Orleans
Updated: 2005-09-08 15:01

Active-military troops said they had no plans to use force. National Guard officers said they do not take orders from the mayor. And even the police said they were not ready to use force just yet. It appeared that the mere threat of force would be the first option.

Robert Fonteaine holds his puppy, Gangster, as he watches New Orleans firefighters try to save his house after it caught fire on the east side of the city Tuesday. Fonteaine's house was a total loss. [AP]
"We have thousands of people who want to voluntarily evacuate at this time," Police Chief Eddie Compass said. "Once they are all out, then we'll concentrate our forces on mandatory evacuation."

Mindful of the bad publicity that could result from images of weary residents dragged out of their homes at gunpoint, Compass said that when his officers start using force, it will be the minimum amount necessary.

"If you are somebody who is 350 pounds, it will obviously take more force to move you than if you are 150 pounds," the chief said.

The stepped-up evacuation came as workers trying to get into the city to restart essential services came under sniper fire. More than 100 officers and seven armored personnel carriers captured a suspect in a housing project who had been firing on workers trying to restore cell phone towers, authorities said.

"These cell teams are getting fire on almost a daily basis, so we needed to get in here and clean this thing up," said Capt. Jeff Winn, commander of the police SWAT team. "We're putting a lot of people on the street right now and I think that we are bringing it under control. Eight days ago this was a mess. Every day is getting a little bit better."

The police chief boasted that 7,000 more military, police and other law officers on the streets had made New Orleans "probably the safest city in America right now."

Across miles of ravaged neighborhoods of clapboard houses, grand estates and housing projects, workers struggled to find and count corpses sniffed out by cadaver dogs in the 90-degree heat. The mayor has said New Orleans' death toll could reach 10,000. Already, a temporary warehouse morgue in rural St. Gabriel that had been prepared to take 1,000 bodies was being readied to handle 5,000.

Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has 25,000 body bags on hand in Louisiana.

Asked if authorities expected as many as 25,000 bodies, he said: "We don't know what to expect."

"It means we're prepared," Johannessen said.
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