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Law enforcement officials warn New Orleans' diehards to leave

NEW ORLEANS, La.—Paul Garrett waved to the National Guard troops who drove by throwing dog treats to a neighborhood mutt, but rejected their advice that he abandon his home in New Orleans' Ninth Ward.

"You're going to put us among thousands of people and there's going to be a lot of chaos and you're going to have that same feces problem you had in the Superdome," he said. "Why subject us to that? And then you're going to take us thousands of miles away when I got a place to stay in Lafayette."

Garrett's concerns about a replay of the chaotic and sometimes dangerous scene at the Superdome, and about being sent farther from home than he wanted to go, were heard throughout the city on Wednesday as officials tried to evacuate the final 10,000 or so holdouts. Yet Garrett was realistic—his belongings were already packed in case someone did force him out.

Police continued to say they're prepared to begin forcibly evacuating people from their homes, saying that a martial law declaration gives the city the authority to order people to leave.

"We have a mandatory evacuation in place," Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said. "Once all the voluntary evacuations have taken place, then we'll concentrate our efforts and our forces to mandatorily evacuate individuals."

But city officials weren't getting much support for a mandatory evacuation from the state or the federal governments. National Guard troops said they wouldn't force people from their homes, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she was the only person who could call for such action. Blanco said she doesn't want to "put more grief on people" by ordering them to leave, noting that some may have everything they need.

She said state officials were encouraging New Orleans residents to leave the city, adding that if it becomes obvious that the spread of dangerous diseases poses a danger, "we'll have to move to that next stage" of telling people to leave.

Garrett doesn't buy it.

"Disease? That's a hoax," he said, noting there no longer was any water around his house. He said he has family in Lafayette, La., and he would be willing to go there if he could find a way. But he was scared that if he was evacuated he might be sent to Texas.

In the Garden District, police stopped forcibly putting people on buses, after doing so with a few people on Monday.

Sgt. 1st Class Shane Bates of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., said his men weren't forcibly removing people.

"The U.S. Army, we cannot force anybody. We're here to assist people," Bates said.

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(Nesmith and Bolstad report for the Miami Herald. Pompilio reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Gary Estwick of the Akron Beacon Journal and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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