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Sickness Spreads Among Hurricane Holdouts

An old man wanders in the flooded waters of Gov. Nicholls street 08 September 2005 in New Orleans, Lousiana. Sickness is reportedly spreading among residents refusing to leave their homes in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone. AFP photo by Omar Torres.

Chalmette, Louisiana (AFP) Sep 08, 2005
Sickness is spreading among residents refusing to leave their homes in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone, a top police officer in one of the worst hit areas said Thursday.

As police and troops pursued their efforts to persuade people to leave, Chief Deputy Sheriff Anthony Fernandez said "some have blisters, the colour of their skin is changing" in the St Bernard's Parish his forces are patrolling.

Health experts have also issued strong warnings to the thousands of people who could soon face mandatory expulsion from New Orleans and neighbouring districts.

Five evacuees are reported to have died after coming in contact with a water-borne bacteria, vibrio vulnificus. There have also been widespread outbreaks of diarrhoea in many shelters for storm refugees.

Pointing to the stinking black flood water that remains in the streets, he said "this is becoming methane".

St Bernard's is where about 30 people were found dead, mainly from heat and dehydration, at the St. Rita's nursing home, according to media reports.

Fernandez said about 1,000 people were feared to have died and about 1,000 were believed to be still in their homes in St Bernard's, an eastern suburb of New Orleans with about 70,000 people, and one of the zones worst hit by the August 29 super-storm.

"Maybe it goes up to 1,000, but that is an estimate," he said of the death toll.

Kenneth Iserson, an Arizona doctor leading a disaster medical assistance team based in a St Bernard's office block, said he had treated relief workers and inhabitants.

"We just treated a man who had been in his house since the hurricane. He was severely dehydrated. He may have breakdown of some muscles," said Isersen.

The doctor said the man was probably too weak to move in his house and was only "more or less conscious".

He said doctors were most worried about the spread of hepatitis and tetanus and were encouraging people to be vaccinated.

According to Fernandez, police and coast guard crews had rescued about 10,000 people from their homes since the August 29 hurricane, which is feared to have killed thousands along the US Gulf Coast.

He said those remaining would have to leave. "It will be a forceable evacuation, not that we will use force but it will be mandatory."

Fernandez also pleaded with federal authorities to pay his officers' salaries as the sales tax that the city relies on for wages had run out. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was only paying for overtime expenses.

The 350 strong force had lost about 100 officers since the storm. The 250 left were living on two commandeered Mississippi river boats. Police officers had evacuated their families but could no longer afford to pay hotel bills, said the chief deputy.

Battalion Chief Frank Rommal, who is part of a police and fire department task force from Maryland, said the group had been told "this entire parish will be demolished".

Rommal spoke as the task force went through a mobile home community that two days ago was under 1.0-1.3 metres (three-four feet) of water.

They smashed in doors looking for survivors and bodies.

They mark each house with orange spray paint. "We mark a 'v' if there is a victim and an 'h' if there is hazard such as rats, snakes, propane or alligators," he said. "We are concerned about mosquitoes and the health risk they pose. The biological issues are significant."

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Canada To Press Chinese President Over Pollution
Ottawa (AFP) Sep 08, 2005
China's President Hu Jintao on Thursday started his first visit to North America since becoming his country's supreme leader and which is likely to see him pressed over trade and China's huge pollution output.

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