New Orleans: “standoff” over forced evacuation

Contrary to earlier reports, the St. Petersburg Times states Sept. 9 that nobody has yet been arrested for disobeying evacuation orders—but authorities are preparing to carry out forcible evacuations if “hold-outs” continue to resist. The paper acknowledges that this suspension of rights presents a “constitutional dilemma,” and quotes the libertarian Cato Institute, which opposes the mandatory evacuation:

Surely we can distinguish houses that are . . . compromised beyond habitation and those that are perfectly livable,” said Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

But legal experts say the government has a well-established right to remove people from their homes for their own protection.

Police and National Guard soldiers have told residents they need to evacuate, and many have gone willingly, many of them elderly or sick. Others refuse to leave, but police have not arrested anyone for staying.

Some National Guard officials say they will not force people out unless the governor orders them. Military leaders say they also have not been ordered to conduct forced evacuations.

But police made it clear in orders barked from front porches and through closed doors that they would return – next time, getting tough.

There is also ambiguity about whether the evacuation will be enforced in those areas which remain above water—primarily the French Quarters and Algiers:

Police said they scanned 80 percent of the city for voluntary evacuees, after which they planned to carry out Mayor Ray Nagin’s order to forcibly remove remaining residents.

Many parts of the city are filled with disease-carrying water, broken gas lines and rotting corpses.

But some parts of the city have dry streets, intact roofs and even running water. Many residents there want to stay, and insist they have a right to do so.

A Sept. 8 UK Guardian account is also ambiguous on this question—while noting that a showdwon over the forced removals could be days away:

Last night in New Orleans national guardsmen were warning those who were still hanging out in the French Quarter that the mayor had told them that they would get no help if they decided to stay.

Members of the public are very thin on the ground in what looks like a sacked city taken over by an occupying army. Now that 20,000 armed national guardsmen are encamped throughout the city the looters have been contained and the few remaining citizens will be under increasing pressure to go. The standoff is set to intensify at the weekend when the forced evacuations are due to start.

See our last post on Katrina’s aftermath.