"I think there's some encouragement in what we've found in the initial sweeps that some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred," Terry Ebbert, New Orleans's homeland security chief, tells the Associated Press.
Following the rescue effort since the city was blasted by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 31 and then flooded by two broken levees, authorities on Friday refocused their energies on tallying and removing the dead in a grid-by-grid sweep. At a FEMA briefing Friday afternoon, authorities promised that the dead would be treated with dignity and respect as they are removed from the remains of the city.
At a separate news briefing, Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, commanding general of 82nd Airborne Division, said the last of the bodies at the convention center would be taken out on Friday. Thousands took shelter there for days with little or no food or water, in what became an increasingly chaotic and violent situation, and several people were found dead.
In another sign of progress, authorities said the New Orleans airport will reopen to commercial flights on Sept. 19. Caldwell said water and power are functioning at the airport. Other reports say it will still be weeks and, in several cases, months, before power returns elsewhere to the city. However, the task of gathering rotting corpses and clearing debris is certain to take months.
Estimates on how many stragglers were refusing to leave the city – where a mandatory evacuation order is now in effect – have been placed between 5,000 and 10,000 people. By Friday afternoon, police told AP that several holdouts were finally changing their minds and leaving.
"They realize they're not going to this awful situation like the Superdome or the Convention Center," said Deputy Chief Warren Riley. "As days go by, it seems less and less likely that we'll have to force anyone."