Authorities in the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans, Louisiana, have ordered a forcible evacuation of all residents as the US government is going to open inquiry into its response to the disaster.
The order, announced by Mayor Ray Nagin late Tuesday, targets those still in the city unless they have been designated as helping with the relief effort, according to US media reports Wednesday.
The move, which supersedes an earlier, milder order to evacuate made before Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore on Aug. 29, comes after rescuers scouring New Orleans found hundreds of people defying repeated urgings to get out.
Meanwhile, US army engineers began to pump out water from the city after using hundreds of sandbags and rocks over the weekend to close a 200-foot gap in a levee that burst in the aftermath of the storm and swamped 80 percent of the Southern city.
How long it will take to drain the city could depend on the condition of the pumps -- especially whether they were submerged and damaged, the engineers said.
An earlier prediction said it could take 36 to 80 days.
While urging the locals to abandon the city, Nagin warned late Tuesday that the fetid floodwater could carry disease and that natural gas was leaking all over town.
"This is not a safe environment," he said. "I understand the spirit that's basically, 'I don't want to abandon my city.' It's OK. Leave for a little while. Let us get you to a better place. Let us clean the city up."
To that end, the Pentagon began sending 5,000 paratroopers from the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division to use small boats to launch a new search-and-rescue effort in flooded sections of the city.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, a political debate on the government's response to the unprecedented disaster is heating up.
US President George W. Bush promised Tuesday that he will lead an investigation into his government's response to Hurricane Katrina and find out what went wrong and why.
"Bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people," he stressed.
However, Bush cautioned that at present there is no time to play "blame games," referring to criticism of government's unreadiness and slow response to the disaster.
The US Congress also pledged Tuesday to open separate investigations into the federal response to Katrina and New Orleans' broken levees.
Speaking to CBS News channel Wednesday morning, US Senator Hillary Clinton, a leading Democrat, called for removing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the country's front-line disaster response organization, from the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.
She also urged the government to fire FEMA chief Mike Brown, saying Bush should "never have appointed such a person."
In a related development, the latest US media reports disclosed that Brown did not ask his boss to dispatch 1,000 rescuers to the front-line until hours after Katrina struck the US Gulf Coast.
Without immediate response, the FEMA chief sought the approval from US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, although he knew it was a "near catastrophic event," said the reports.
Although many criticisms are targeting government officials such as Brown for their slow response to the hurricane disaster, there is no suggestions from Bush on whether anyone will be responsible for these failures.