NEW ORLEANS, United States (AFP) -The death toll from Hurricane Katrina passed 700, as New Orleans”s mayor said much of the population could return next week.
Still reeling from the devastation of the August 29 storm, the United States braced for a second hit in barely two weeks as Hurricane Ophelia lashed the east coast state of North Carolina.
The official death toll rose to 708 after Louisiana state confirmed another 51 deaths. State officials said 474 people were now known to have been killed in Louisiana.
As the troops and police stepped up the searched of empty houses as floodwaters quickly receded the rise in the toll is now expected to accelerated though officials have said initial predictions of 10,000 dead were over-pessimistic.
Another 218 deaths have been recorded in Mississippi, two in Alabama and 14 in Florida.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin warned that more hideous discoveries will come out of the search but said some 180,000 evacuated residents are expected to return to the flood-stricken city by next week.
"Within the next week or two we should have about 180,000 people back in the city of New Orleans," Nagin told CNN”s Larry King Live.
He said electricity should be running, and sewers and water supplies should be working in some parts of the city.
About 485,000 people fled before or after Hurricane Katrina battered the city and floodwaters then devastated much of the jazz capital.
"Once they come back we”ll have the critical services for them to at least live a semi-normal life," he said.
Rescuers, who have got used to only finding bodies, saved one man who had been in his home for 16 days.
A rescue team found 74-year-old Edgar Hollingsworth, unconscious and emaciated in his locked and darkened New Orleans home. Doctors were amazed that he had survived so long.
National Guard Lieutenant Frederick Fell broke down the door of Hollingsworth”s house after looking through a window and seeing the elderly man”s foot hanging over the side of a couch.
Hollingsworth was barely breathing, and a medical team inserted an intravenous tube under his clavicle because other veins were too weak.
Louisiana”s attorney general Charles Foti has pressed negligent homicide charges against two owners of a New Orleans nursing home, where the bodies of 34 people were found after the August 29 storm.
"Thirty-four people drowned in a nursing home when it should have been evacuated," Foti said, adding that an offer of help was ignored by owners Mable Mangano, 62, and Salvatore Mangano 65.
A lawyer for the couple called the charges "ridiculous". But Foti said he was also investigating the deaths of 45 people at a New Orleans hospital. The bodies were found on Sunday.
While New Orleans made faltering steps toward recovery, Hurricane Ophelia, the seventh of the hurricane season, inflicted floods and power cuts on about 100,000 people in North Carolina on the Atlantic coast.
The governor of North Carolina pleaded with the public to heed evacuation warnings and ordered a state of emergency with dawn to dusk curfews in some towns.
Authorities poured emergency workers into North Carolina following withering criticism of their response to Katrina.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had about 250 specialist workers in the state already, the governor said. The Homeland Security Department said several hundred trailers of water and ice and dozens of trailers of emergency meals had been pre-positioned in several states around North Carolina.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee was one of three congressional panels to open hearings on Katrina, with lawmakers from both main parties saying that drastic action is needed to improve government readiness.
President George W. Bush was to give a speech in Louisiana on Thursday to outline the administration”s plans to rebuild the stricken region and help the one million displaced persons who have been scattered across the United States.
On Tuesday, Bush said the hurricane "exposed serious problems in our response capabilities at all levels of government."
He added: "To the extent that the federal government didn”t fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
At the United Nations on Wednesday, Bush thanked the world community for the hurricane aid that has come from dozens of countries.