Authorities said their sweep of New Orleans for the last voluntary evacuees was nearly complete, with officers ready to carry out the mayor's order to forcibly remove thousands who remain.
"The ones who wanted to leave, I would say most of them are out," Detective Sergeant James Imbrogglio said.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 residents are believed to be left in the city, where toxic floodwaters have started to slowly recede, but the task of collecting rotting corpses and clearing debris will likely take months.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Rule said his crew pulled 18 people from their homes on Thursday.
He said some of the holdouts did not want to leave unless they could take their pets.
"It's getting to the point where they're delirious," Rule said. "A couple of them don't know who they were. They think the water will go down in a few days."
Police Chief Eddie Compass said officers would use the "minimum amount of force" necessary to persuade those who remain to evacuate. Although no one was forcibly removed on Thursday, some residents said they left under extreme pressure.
"They were all insisting that I had to leave my home," said Shelia Dalferes, who said she had 15 minutes to pack before she and her husband were evacuated.
"The implication was there with their plastic handcuffs on their belt. Who wants to go out like that?"
As searches for the living continued, the grim task of retrieving corpses intensified under the broiling sun. Officials raised the death toll in Louisiana to 118 Thursday, though New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has said up to 10,000 could be dead in that city alone. State officials have ordered 25,000 body bags.
Authorities are now faced with the challenge of how to identify bodies that may be bloated and decayed beyond recognition. At two collection sites, federal mortuary teams were collecting information that may help identify the bodies, such as where they were found. Personal effects were also being logged.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush vowed to stand by evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina "for the long haul," and warned lawmakers, who have already poured more than US$62 billion into the devastated Gulf Coast, that they'll need to spend even more.
Congress rapidly and over-whelmingly voted on Thursday to fulfill an urgent plea for US$51.8 billion, adding to the US$10.5 billion that was approved last week for hurricane victims. After signing the bill, Bush said, "We will continue to help people rebuild their lives and rebuild the region."
Bush vowed to cut through red tape hampering victims from claiming federal medical, food and housing benefits, as government officials worked to issue US$2,000 debit cards to some evacuees and clear up confusion about claiming the money.
"We have much more work to do, but the people who have been hurt by this storm need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul," Bush said.
Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, called the debit cards "a good start" yesterday but said evacuees will need a lot more money.
"We need to be able to get them the cash they need to be able to live and survive, even in the near term, because many of these folks live paycheck to paycheck," Vitter told CBS' The Early Show.
The president also designated next Friday as a national day of prayer and remembrance for Katrina's victims.
Democrats immediately urged Bush to rescind the order.
"Hurricane Katrina took away their jobs, now President Bush will take away their wages when they find new jobs," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
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