Police and soldiers went house to house, using the unmistakable threat of force, to try to evacuate the last 10,000 or so survivors of Hurricane Katrina to leave storm-shattered New Orleans because of the risk of disease from the putrid, sewage-laden floodwaters.
"A large group of young armed men armed with M-16s just arrived at my door and told me that I have to leave," said Patrick McCarty, who owns several buildings and lives in one of them in the city's Lower Garden District. "While not saying they would arrest you, the inference is clear."
A frail-looking 86-year-old Anthony Charbonnet grumbled Wednesday as he locked his front door and walked slowly backward down the steps of the house where he had lived since 1955.
"I haven't left my house in my life," he said as soldiers took him to a helicopter. "I don't want to leave."
Mayor C. Ray Nagin ordered law officers and the military late Tuesday to evacuate all citizens by force if necessary. He warned that the combination of fetid water, fires and natural gas leaks after Hurricane Katrina made it too dangerous to stay.
In fact, the first government tests confirmed Wednesday that the amount of sewage-related bacteria in the floodwaters is at least 10 times higher than acceptable safety levels. Dr. Julie Gerberding, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned stragglers not to even touch the water and pleaded: "If you haven't left the city yet, you must do so."
As of midday, there were no reports of anyone being removed by force. And it was not clear how the order would be carried out.
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.
"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," reports the AP.