Thousands who stayed prepare for enforced evacuation

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The Independent US

Nobody really wanted to leave, everyone had reasons to stay. Mostly, it was the realisation that the homes they were sitting in were all they had - and no one knew when they would be coming back to them.

But eventually the realisation struck; without food or water, without power and without any real expectation of getting these things turned around any time soon, there was really no alternative but to leave.

These hard-core remnants, some 10,000 or so still estimated to be in this city, were being evacuated from New Orleans yesterday after Mayor Ray Nagin said there was no alternative but for them to go. More than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck the city, the police, coastguard and federal officials are at this stage being firm, telling the people they really must leave. It is expected that by tomorrow they are going to be getting even tougher; one official said the National Guard would deal with anyone refusing to leave by throwing "them onto a truck".

"I had stuff to live on, food and water," said Gregory Lukins, one of the evacuees who were being taken to a car park at the convention centre from where 1,000 people a day were being flown to the airport and there put on charter planes out of the city. "At first I did not want to leave, I wanted to stay. But the conditions have got worse. There is no water, no power." Mr Lukins had a wife and five children who had already been evacuated. He thought they were in Texas. He was carrying a single suitcase of clothes.

One thing he did not know was where he would be taken. "I don't mind," he said. "Anywhere is better than here." Bobby Breaux and his partner, Linda Washington, were also preparing to get on one of the choppers. Water had reached up to the second floor of their home at one point but it had since receded. Mr Breaux had wanted to stick it out but Ms Washington wanted to leave. "I didn't want to go. The government has forced us," he said. "The state troopers came by and said that they would not be bringing any more water." Ms Washington said: "We don't know anything about where we are going. That's one of the worst things. It's frightening."

Yesterday the broken city was filled with the noise of Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters and its still partly flooded highways were filled with rescue crews in flat-bottomed boats, searching those sections of the city still believed to have people living in them. "The sounds of New Orleans were jazz, people laughing, people eating a good meal," said Mayor Nagin. "And now the sounds of New Orleans are helicopters and army vehicles. This is almost surreal."

Sixty per cent remains flooded. Dave Lesh, who was leading a rescue crew from California in the Downman district, said many people refused to leave, even when they were living in deep flood water. There was no way to force them. "If they won't leave all we can do is take a GPS [global positioning system] co-ordinate of their location and tell someone about it," he said.

One of his team members added: "There was one guy who had water up to his chest. He was sitting on a fence and he did not want to go. He said that it was not too hot for him and that he was sleeping on his roof at night." He added: "They say they survived Betsy and they survived Andrew and Camille and that they just don't want to go."

Several people said they had been forced to leave pets behind. One woman, Mary Witte, said she had been forced to leave her two German deerhounds, even though her brother was on his way from Texas to pick them up. She had left them "buckets" of water but expected they would die.

She was angry. "I'm not blaming Bush, I'm blaming our government as a whole. We are too busy minding other people's business than to help our own people," she said. "I stuck it out for nine days. There was no way I would have left my dogs."

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