Pumps were draining the floodwaters of New Orleans back into Lake Pontchartrain as the city entered its second week after hurricane Katrina. But an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said the pumps, capable of pushing 10,000 cubic feet of water per second, would have to be powered up slowly so as not to damage the levee system further and cause a new breach. Mayor Ray Nagin (D) said it was his understanding that clearing all the standing water would take three weeks and that restoring electricity across New Orleans would require as long as two months. He didn't indicate whether the city would force the evacuation of the estimated 10,000 residents who remain but said those refusing to leave no longer would receive handouts of freshwater. A senior police official said: "We have advised people that this city has been destroyed. There is ... no reason for them to stay."

In other Katrina-related developments:

• Long lines of cars were bringing residents of some New Orleans suburbs back to inspect their homes for damage and to salvage what is possible. They are permitted to stay until Wednesday.

• In Houston, despite the declaration of a public health emergency, plans to move 4,000 evacuees from New Orleans onto cruise ships were on hold because many of those sheltering in the Astrodome and other facilities refused to leave.

• In neighboring Mississippi, communications problems were complicating the work of public safety agencies, but a self- contained operations bus that arrived Sunday in Gulfport finally was allowing police and fire departments to be matched with calls for help. Law-enforcement officials reported at least 100 arrests for looting in counties along the Gulf Coast.

Congress ended its summer recess Tuesday, returning to work with major new items on the agenda. First: crafting a comprehensive, long-term response to hurricane Katrina, after approving $10.5 billion in stopgap funding last week. In the Senate, members also will consider whether to confirm John Roberts Jr. as the new Chief Justice of the US rather than as an associate justice, following the death of William Rehnquist. The hearings will begin Monday. President Bush is expected to submit a new nominee for the associate post to which Roberts originally was named.

Responding to steps to release oil from US reserves, futures prices dropped on the New York Mercantile Exchange as it reopened Tuesday after a three-day weekend. A barrel of light crude fell 57 cents to $67, while gasoline futures dropped 1 cent to $2.17 a gallon.

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