ENGINEERS plugged the levee break that had swamped much of New Orleans with Hurricane Katrinas floodwaters, as the citys mayor announced his grimmest yet prediction: as many as 10,000 dead.
Ray Nagin upped his estimate of the probable death toll in his city from merely thousands, telling NBCs Today show, It wouldnt be unreasonable to have 10,000.
Crews had put up metal sheets and dropped 3,000lb sandbags from helicopters on to the 17th Street canal leading to Lake Pontchartrain to plug the 200ft-wide gap, and water was being pumped from the canal back into the lake last night.
State officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers say once the canal level is drawn down two feet, Pumping Station No 6 can begin pumping water out of the bowl-shaped city.
Some parts of the city already showed slipping floodwaters as the repair neared completion, with the low-lying Ninth Ward dropping more than a foot. In downtown New Orleans, some streets were merely wet rather than swamped.
Were starting to make the kind of progress that I kind of expected earlier, Nagin said even before the plug of the break, which opened up a day after the hurricane and flooded 80% of the city.
The news came as many of the 460,000 residents of suburban Jefferson Parish waited in a line of cars that stretched for miles to briefly see their flooded homes and to scoop up soaked wedding pictures and other cherished mementoes.
A lot of these people built these houses anticipating some flood water but nobody imagined this, sobbed Diane Dempsey, a 59-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel who could get no closer than the waterline a mile from her Metairie home. Im going to pay someone to get me back there, anything I have to do.
I wont be getting inside today unless I get some scuba gear, said Jack Rabito, a 61-year-old bar owner who waited for a ride to visit his one-storey home that had water lapping to the gutters.
As police and even bands of civilians including Hollywood actor Sean Penn - launched door-to-door searches of the city for survivors, they were running up against a familiar obstacle: People who had been trapped more than a week in damaged homes, yet refused to leave.
We have advised people that this city has been destroyed, said Deputy Police Superintendent WJ Riley. There is nothing here for them and no reason for them to stay no food, no jobs, nothing.
Riley, who estimated fewer than 10,000 people were left in the city, said some simply did not want to leave their homes while others were hanging back to engage in criminal activities, such as looting.
Nagin said the city had the authority to force residents to evacuate but did not say if it was taking that step. He did, however, detail one heavy-handed tactic: water will no longer be handed out to people who refuse to leave.
With almost a third of New Orleans police force missing in action, a caravan of law enforcement vehicles, emblazoned with emblems from across the nation and blue lights flashing, poured into the city to help establish order on the citys anarchic streets.
Between 400 to 500 officers on New Orleans 1600-member force were unaccounted for. Some lost their homes. Some were looking for families. Some simply left because they said they could not deal with the catastrophe, Riley said. Officers were being cycled off duty and given five-day vacations in Las Vegas and Atlanta, where they also would receive counselling.
At a news conference in Baton Rouge, police superintendent Eddie Compass denied that officers deserted in droves, acknowledging some officers abandoned their jobs but saying he did not know how many.
Two police officers killed themselves. Another was shot in the head. Compass said 150 had to be rescued from 8ft of water and others had picked up infections from walking through the murky soup of chemicals and pollutants in flooded areas.
No police department in the history of the world was asked to do what we were asked, Compass said with a mix of anger and pride.
The leader of troops patrolling New Orleans declared the city largely free of the lawlessness that plagued it in the days following the hurricane. And he angrily lashed out at a reporter who suggested search-and-rescue operations were being stymied by random gunfire and lawlessness.
Go on the streets of New Orleans its secure, said Army Lt Gen Russel Honore. Have you been to New Orleans? Did anybody accost you?
Hopeful signs of recovery were accompanied by President George Bushs second visit to Louisiana, which exposed a continued rift between state and federal officials over the slowness of a relief effort. The first significant convoy of food, water and medicine did not arrive in New Orleans until four full days after the hurricane, and the mayor and others said some survivors died awaiting relief.
Louisianas largest newspaper, The Times-Picayune, called for the sacking of every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an open letter to Bush that it published.
At a stop in Baton Rouge, Bush said all levels of the government were doing their best, and he pledged: So long as any life is in danger, weve got work to do.
In Texas, US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared a public health emergency for that state, saying it would speed up federal assistance to help almost 240,000 storm evacuees the most of any state.