The mayor and others had predicted up to 10,000 deaths, but that number appeared less likely after Friday's count, said retired Marine Colonel Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security chief.

"Some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred," Ebbert said.

He declined to give a revised estimate, but said: "Numbers so far are relatively minor, as compared to the dire projections of 10,000."

Clearing up

Also on Friday, the US Army Corps of Engineers projected it would take a month to dry out New Orleans, 80% of which was inundated after the storm and levee breaches. The corps previously said it could take 80 days.

Authorities say they have not
forced anyone to leave

Authorities, meanwhile, have shifted most of their attention to counting and removing the dead, after days spent cajoling the living to get out of a city beset by fetid floodwaters and scattered fires.

Since the hurricane struck on 29 August, residents, rescuers and cadaver-sniffing dogs have found bodies floating in the water, trapped in attics or left on broken highways. Some have been dropped off at hospital doorsteps or left slumped in wheelchairs out in the open.

Police and soldiers were marking houses where corpses were found or noting their location with global positioning devices so the dead could be collected later.

Finding the dead

Mayor Ray Nagin suggested last weekend that "it wouldn't be unreasonable to have 10,000" dead, and authorities ordered 25,000 body bags. But soldiers who arrived in the past few days to help in the search said they were not seeing that kind of toll.

"There's nothing at all in the magnitude we anticipated," said Major General Bill Caldwell, commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

The army says it will take about a
month for New Orleans to dry out

Ebbert said the search for the dead would be done block-by-block, with no media allowed to follow along.

"You can imagine sitting in Houston and watching somebody removed from your parents' property," he said. "We don't think that's proper."

State officials could not provide an exact count of the dead recovered so far. Corpses from New Orleans were taken to a morgue in nearby St. Gabriel, where medical examiners worked to identify the remains.

Thousands staying

Still, thousands of people were believed to be staying in the city.

"There are still quite a few still holed up in their homes," said Oklahoma Army National Guard Brigadier General Myles L. Deering.

"We'll continue to check on them to make sure they're OK and try to encourage them to leave."

"Some of the catastrophic deaths that some people predicted may not have occurred"

Terry Ebbert,
New Orleans homeland security chief

Health officials said aerial spraying of pesticides would begin on Sunday to curb mosquito-borne illnesses.

There were no reports of anyone being taken out by force under a three-day-old order from the mayor, with growing indications that the order had been little more than an empty threat.

"We're trying our best to persuasively negotiate, and we are not using force at this time - I cannot speak to the future," city attorney Sherry Landry said.

Police fearing deadly confrontations with jittery residents enforced a new order that bars homeowners from owning guns. That order apparently did not apply to the hundreds of M-16-toting private security guards hired to protect businesses and wealthy property owners.

Pets

The military began providing cages to homeowners to allow them to evacuate with their pets. "We got the capacity, and it seemed like the right thing to do," Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore said.

Meanwhile, the floodwaters continued to recede, with about three dozen of the 174 pumps in the area working and an additional 17 portable pumps in place.

About 350,000 people in the New Orleans area were without electricity, but utilities said some power had been restored to the central business district.

Authorities said the airport would reopen to commercial flights on 19 September. And a $30.9 million contract was signed on Friday to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridge, over Lake Pontchartrain, which sustained major hurricane damage.

The developments in New Orleans came against an increasingly stormy backdrop in Washington, where Federal
Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown was relieved of his command of the onsite relief efforts amid increasing criticism over the sluggishness of the agency's response and questions over his background.