NEW ORLEANS – As the search for Hurricane Katrina (search) victims came to an end in Louisiana Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (search) announced that the government would be forced to lay off about 3,000 "non-essential" city employees.
"It's with great sadness that we were unable to hold onto some of our dedicated city workers," he told an afternoon news conference. "I want to thank everyone who has served our city."
Nagin said the local government couldn't "put together the financing" to maintain the pre-hurricane level of city staffing. The 3,000 represent about half the city's workforce, but the mayor said no police or firefighters would be among those let go.
"I wish I didn't have to do this. I wish we had the money, the resources to keep these people," Nagin said. "The problem we have is we have no revenue streams."
Nagin described the layoffs as "pretty permanent" and said that the city will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) to contact municipal employees who fled the city in the aftermath of Katrina, which struck about a month ago.
The mayor said the move will save about $5 million to $8 million of the city's monthly payroll of $20 million. The layoffs will take place over the next two weeks.
Also Tuesday, former President Clinton met with dozens of New Orleans-area evacuees staying at a shelter in Baton Rouge's convention center.
The state's death toll stood at 972 as officials completed their door-to-door hunt for victims Tuesday, but more searches will be conducted if someone reports seeing a body, a state official said.
Some schoolchildren returned to classes Tuesday as New Orleans revved up efforts to recover from the devastating hurricane.
The search for Katrina victims ended in Louisiana with a death toll substantially less than the 10,000 victims some officials feared. A private company hired by the state to remove bodies was on call if any others were found. The toll Tuesday stood at 972, eight more than Monday, the state health department said. Mississippi's death toll remained at 221.
The death toll probably will continue to rise, but authorities have said sweeps yielded fewer bodies than feared and that the toll was likely to be well below the dire projections. Nagin said soon after Katrina struck that New Orleans alone could have 10,000 dead.
On Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton met with several dozen New Orleans-area residents who are staying in a shelter in Baton Rouge's convention center. The evacuees, many of whom have been sleeping on cots in the Rivercenter's vast concrete hall for more than a month, complained of lack of showers, clean clothes, privacy and medical care.
Clinton, working with former President Bush to raise money for victims, toured the sleeping area, shaking hands, hugging and chatting.
"My concern is to listen to you ... and learn the best way to spend this money we've got," said Clinton, who was to visit the city itself later in the day.
Robert Warner, 51, of New Orleans said he and others have struggled to get private housing set up through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"We've been mired in the bureaucratic red tape since Day One," he said.
There were signs of normality in New Orleans on Monday — five weeks to the day since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. St. Andrew the Apostle elementary school in the reopened Algiers neighborhood was the first Roman Catholic school to resume in New Orleans.
"My heart is just bursting," said teacher Jewell McCartney, fighting back tears as she welcomed her class of sixth-graders. "I just want to give them all a hug."
Archdiocese officials said their schools also were reopening in areas outside the city. Some public schools in nearby parishes also opened Monday, but public schools in New Orleans remain closed. Some may resume by November.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues pumping water out of the lower Ninth Ward and efforts to rebuild the levees that breached, causing water to cascade into the city, remained under way.
However, two canals near the area were closed Monday as a precaution, because of stronger-than-normal winds and higher tides, spokesman Alan Dooley said. As of late Monday afternoon, a steady stream of water leaked through the repaired levees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.