Teams removing 30 bodies found in nursing home
Thousands remain in New Orleans with police set to force exodus
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- About half of more than 30 bodies, found when receding floodwaters in a suburban New Orleans parish revealed what many fear could be the first of many such grim discoveries, had been removed by Thursday.
Mortuary teams with refrigerated trucks were called in Wednesday to move the bodies.
St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stevens said "30-plus" bodies were found in St. Rita's Nursing Home in lower St. Bernard Parish -- one of the areas hardest hit by the storm and flooding.
Between 40 and 50 other people were rescued from the facility, Stevens said. (See video on the gruesome discovery -- 2:02)
The parish is east of New Orleans, where between 10,000 and 15,000 people are believed to remain in the flooded city, and thousands are feared dead.
Deputies reported that floodwaters had reached a height of eight feet in some parts of St. Bernard. The nursing home was still surrounded by about three feet of water on Wednesday, as authorities began removing bodies.
National Guard troops were going house to house to search for survivors and recover the dead -- marking the houses they searched with an "X" to avoid duplication, said Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming, commander of a Florida unit dispatched to New Orleans. (See video of soldiers aiding recovery -- 3:16)
There have been 294 confirmed deaths in Katrina's wake, including 83 in Louisiana, as of Wednesday, but the final number is expected to be much higher.
Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, told The Associated Press that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has 25,000 body bags in the state.
FEMA set up a temporary morgue in the town of St. Gabriel, about 70 miles west of New Orleans. (Watch video on St. Gabriel's "warehouse morgue" -- 2:56)
Another temporary morgue is set up at the intersection of Interstates 10 and 610 inside the city, FEMA spokesman Bill Lehman said.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, warning that it's not safe to stay in the city.
The floodwaters are contaminated with sewage, chemicals and decaying corpses. Nagin said those who remained faced the risk of water- and mosquito-borne disease and blazes caused by natural gas leaks.
Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said police would not start the forced evacuations until everyone who wants to leave is out.
"We're going to be respectful, talk to people, get counselors in to talk to people," he said. "A lot of people have been traumatized. We're going to do this with sensitivity. They have to understand, this water is polluted, it's dangerous, they could die."
The U.S. Coast Guard will help with those evacuations if needed, Vice Adm. Thad Allen told CNN on Thursday.
Active duty U.S. troops will not participate in forcible evacuations, said Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the military relief effort.
After last week's rampant looting, some holdouts fear authorities "cannot protect their property," City Council President Oliver Thomas told CNN.
Others were concerned about conditions in shelters or worried about their pets.
A blind and elderly woman who identified herself as Ms. Connie rejected authorities' efforts to coax her from her rundown rental home until they agreed to take her dog.
"My dog goes where I go," she said.
In the French Quarter, Deidre White said she felt "pretty safe" working at Johnny White's, a bar that even Hurricane Katrina did not shut down.
"We're here to help people out and feed them," she said. "I'm going to try and hold my ground and stay in my home as long as I can, because I love living here."
Most pumps out of action
A representative of the Army Corps of Engineers said 23 of the 148 permanent pumps in New Orleans were working, their efforts augmented by three portable pumps.
Dan Hitchings, a spokesman for the corps, said two of the pumps at the head of the 17th Street Canal were partially functional. That is where a major breach in the levee separating the city from Lake Pontchartrain has been sealed.
The corps has estimated it would take between 24 and 80 days to drain New Orleans and its surrounding parishes, an area mostly below sea level.
Some surrounding parishes were still largely under water Wednesday, virtually inaccessible except by air. (Full story)
Hitchings said water was being drained from St. Bernard Parish, where engineers intentionally breached levees earlier this week to help drain the region.
Dikes were also breached in a few places in Plaquemines Parish, which was heavily flooded. No pumps are operational in that parish, Hitchings said. (See video on the largely submerged parish -- 2:35)