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Police Officers in New Orleans Confiscate Civilians’ Weapons <P>By Alex Berenson

Police Officers in New Orleans
Confiscate Civilians’ Weapons

By Alex Berenson
and John M. Broder


Local police officers began confiscating weapons from civilians on Thursday in preparation for a forced evacuation of the last holdouts still living here, as President Bush steeled the nation for the grisly scenes of recovering the dead that will unfold in coming days.

Police officers and federal law enforcement agents scoured the city carrying assault rifles seeking residents who have holed up to avoid forcible eviction, as well as those who are still considering evacuating voluntarily to escape the city’s putrid waters.

“Individuals are at risk of dying,” said P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of the New Orleans police. “There’s nothing more important than the preservation of human life.”

Although it appeared Wednesday night that forced evacuations were beginning, on Thursday the authorities were still looking for those willing to leave voluntarily. The police said that the search was about 80 percent done, and that afterward they would begin enforcing Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s order to forcibly remove residents.

Bush, in Washington, urged the nearly 1 million people displaced by the storm to contact federal agencies to apply for immediate aid. He praised the outpouring of private charity to the displaced, but said the costs of restoring lives would affect all Americans, as would the horror of the storm’s carnage.

“The responsibility of caring for hundreds of thousands of citizens who no longer have homes is going to place many demands on our nation,” the president said in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “We have many difficult days ahead, especially as we recover those who did not survive the storm.”

While Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney was touring Mississippi and Louisiana, in part as an answer to the critics who have charged that the administration responded too slowly and timidly to the epic disaster. At a stop in Gulfport, Miss., a heckler shouted an obscenity at the vice president. Cheney shrugged it off, saying it was the first such abuse he had heard.

Also on Thursday, Congress approved a $51.8 billion package of storm aid, bringing the total to more than $62 billion in a week. The government is now spending $2 billion dollars a day to respond to the disaster.

The confirmed death toll in Louisiana remained at 83 on Thursday. Efforts to recover corpses are beginning, although only a handful of bodies have been recovered so far. Official estimates of the death toll in New Orleans are still vague, but 10,000 remains a common figure.

Mississippi officials said they had confirmed 196 dead as of Thursday, including 143 in coastal areas, although Gov. Haley Barbour said he expected the toll to go higher.

“It would just be a guess, but the 200 or just over 300 we think is a credible and reliable figure,” the governor said on NBC’s “Today” show.

He also said that electricity would be restored by Sunday to most homes and businesses in the state that could receive it.