New Orleans: Police go door-to-door to clear out last residents

Vice-Admiral Thad Allen, the US Coast Guard chief of staff, who was named this week to take over the federal response in New Orleans, said authorities would search the city block-by-block. Speaking on national television, he said: "We need everybody out so we can continue with the work of restoring this city." Fears of disease breaking out are growing daily, as those who have refused to leave are living amid toxic floodwaters contaminated by refuse, human waste and corpses.

Boats continue to cruise the waters in search of the thousands feared dead from Hurricane Katrina, and the White House dispatched a high-profile team, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, to tour the destruction zone. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reportedly flown 25,000 body bags to the city.

The New Orleans police chief, Edwin Compass, said authorities were prepared to force people to leave when the voluntary evacuation process was completed. But hundreds of residents appeared determined to stay in what remained of their neighbourhood rather than venture into the unknown.

Todd Gower and his partner, Violet Watson, are typical of the diehard tendency. Before the hurricane, Mr Gower worked as a barker on Bourbon Street, rounding up customers for one of the many bars. Ms Watson made her living entertaining the tourists - swallowing a live snake for a couple of bucks a trick. For the time being, they have no intention of going anywhere, despite the mandatory evacuation order.

Sitting on the veranda of his down-at-heel home in the Marigny district of the city, Mr Gower said: "I've been here many years. I love this city. If we shut the doors behind us they can't force us out."

As many as 15,000 others appear to be similarly defiant. They survived Hurricane Katrina without any help from the authorities, they say, and they will continue to survive without any help now.

Officials from various state and federal bodies admit they do not want to be seen to be forcing people from their homes. The city's police superintendent, Eddie Compass, said the evacuation would be done "with the minimal force necessary to get everybody out".

Many people do not want to leave because they would have to leave their animals behind. Mr Gower and Ms Watson have two dogs as well as Caligula, the Peruvian red-tailed boa with which she performed. To prove the veracity of her story, she demonstrated her snake-swallowing trick for The Independent. "This is our home, this is where we live," said Ms Watson, originally from Arkansas.

Cory Smith, a member of the Humane Society, one of several groups that have been organising a database of animals and trying to care for those that are being left behind, said that abandoning their pets was one of people's worst fears.

"Obviously people do not want to leave their property, but I'd say even more they do not want to leave behind their animals," she said. She said there was confusion as to whether people were permitted to bring their pets with them - the result of lack of co-ordination between the various groups - and that some evacuees found themselves being forced to abandon their pets in the street.

Many people said they simply had nowhere else to go. Mr Gower's landlord, Charlie Lenon, 68, was also refusing to leave. "Where would I go?" he asked. "I love this place. There's so much of my stuff here."

As law enforcement groups patrolled the Marigny and elsewhere in the city, reminding people that an evacuation order was in place, many residents simply smiled and said they were staying put.

Milton Peterson was adamant that he would not leave. The retired 57-year-old said his wife had died earlier this year and that the house was full of too many important things of her's for him to leave. His six grown-up children had already left. They had wanted him to leave as well, but he had refused. He had never been outside Louisiana and he had lived in his house for 37 years. He was ready to lock himself behind the iron bars of his house and wait for the police to come for him. "I don't know people in Chicago or New York," he said. "Why would I want to go there? What do I know about those places?"

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