WASHINGTON – The commander of active duty troops involved in hurricane relief efforts said Sunday his soldiers will not enforce New Orleans' (search) order for residents to evacuate the flooded city.
Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore (search) said military units are continuing to provide food and water and other aid despite the order, which he indicated is the responsibility of state and local authorities to enforce.
"Federal troops will not be involved in the direct evacuation in any way, of any one, from their home. That is a local and state law enforcement task not to include federal troops," Honore said in a televised interview.
He added that local officials and the National Guard (search) also are providing food and water to people who have stayed.
Thousands of residents are defying orders to leave the city, but security forces were not physically forcing anyone to go. The mayor, Ray Nagin, had warned that residents could be forcibly removed, but authorities have been reluctant to take that step.
Honore, who heads the military's Joint Task Force Katrina, said that over the next three days, officials should learn how many people died in New Orleans. He said the preliminary figure of 10,000 offered last week by some officials was "a number we'd be very happy to be wrong about."
Honore also addressed the issue of media access during recovery efforts. The Bush administration, challenged in court by CNN, agreed on Saturday not to prevent the media from following the effort to recover the bodies of Katrina victims.
On Thursday, Honore said the media would be allowed "zero access" to recovery efforts. But on Sunday, he said reporters and photographers have "total access" to the area.
"I can't swing a dead cat without hitting a reporter," Honore said.
He said his concern had been that news media would report deaths before family members had been notified. Reporters also were denied a seat on rescue craft because of concerns for overcrowding, he said.
The government is not permitting photographers to join rescuers in boats or helicopters during the mission to recover bodies from flooded homes.