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Hurricane Katrina

Leave, New Orleans holdouts ordered

Published September 8, 2005

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NEW ORLEANS - Amid fears of disease from toxic floodwaters, police began going door to door Wednesday to coax, cajole or force thousands of stubborn holdouts from their homes and hideaways. Some went willingly; others stood their ground, outraged that they were being forced to leave the city they love. Even people in areas least affected by Hurricane Katrina were ordered to flee.

"Come out right now!" screamed a visiting police officer from Michigan, when he spotted signs of life at a residence on Constance and Amelia streets.

A team of 25 officers knocked on every door in an 11-block stretch along Amelia Street, from St. Charles Avenue to Tchoupitoulas Street.

The only person they found was Thais St. Julien, a New Orleans native, singer and director of the New Orleans Musica da Camera group. St. Julien agreed to leave after calling a friend who would pick her up in front of the officers.

But she questioned the cultural, financial and long-term impact of forcing people from the city.

"I will obey the law, but I feel it's a serious mistake," St. Julien said. "If you tell people it's going to be six months, they're going to get a job and buy a house."

Mayor Ray Nagin ordered all 10,000 or so remaining residents evacuated - by force, if necessary - because of the risk of fire and disease. He did not say when they could return.

Authorities will first focus their attention on evacuating people who want to leave. Once they are all out, Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said, "then we'll concentrate our forces on mandatory evacuation."

But Michigan police Lt. Tom Osterholzer said some people were forced out of their homes Wednesday. "Two people were armed but were no threats to us," he said.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the health hazards from the water make it imperative that remaining residents get out.

"If you haven't left the city yet, you must do so," she said.

The first government tests confirmed Wednesday that floodwater bacteria associated with sewage are at least 10 times higher than acceptable safety levels.

At least four people may have died of a waterborne bacterial infection circulating in Katrina's floodwaters, health officials said. Doctors are being urged to watch for diarrheal illnesses caused by such things as viruses, E. coli bacteria and a type of cholera-like bacteria common in warm Gulf Coast waters.

"I haven't left my house in my life. I don't want to leave," said frail-looking, 86-year-old Anthony Charbonnet, shaking his head as he locked his front door and walked slowly backward down the steps of his home since 1955.

Charbonnet left only after a neighbor assured him: "Things will be okay. It'll be like a vacation." Still protesting, Charbonnet stepped into the ambulance in which soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division would take him to a helicopter.

Several residents said they heard Nagin's order on portable radios and were complying, reluctantly.

Dolores Devron and her husband, Forcell, finally agreed to go. Mrs. Devron said she was relieved the couple were allowed to take their dog with them but angry they were ordered out.

"There are dead babies tied to poles and they're dragging us out and leaving the dead babies. That ain't right!" she screamed, waving her arms as she was directed onto a troop carrier truck.

Picola Brown, 47, hobbled slowly down the street on crutches. She said she had not been able to leave because shortly before the storm hit, a truck ran over her left foot, breaking a toe. "The mayor said everybody's got to go. I got ready. I just don't want them knocking on my door," she said.

"Where do you want to go?" asked a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division. She answered, "Wherever it's comfortable."

Substantial parts of the city remain flooded, but parts are dry. Residents of intact homes and neighborhoods said they can't understand why they have to leave.

In Marigny, a neighborhood near the French Quarter, German Bass, 28, and his sister, Amy Bass, 32, said they were growing suspicious of the forced evacuation. It has overtones of ethnic cleansing, they said.

"They're up to something," said German Bass, a musician and bartender. "They don't want us here. Why?"

The neighborhood already has pooled its resources - food, water, power source. They've cleared the streets of debris and their children are outside playing. "They're calling us a pocket of resistance," Bass said. "We're calling ourselves a pocket of civilization."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:57:46]

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