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In wake of storm, chief quits

New Orleans police under fire for the way disaster was handled

P. Edwin Compass
P. Edwin Compass

NEW ORLEANS — P. Edwin Compass III, the city's flamboyant police superintendent, resigned Tuesday after weeks of criticism for his department's failure to stem disorder in the city and within its own ranks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At a news conference at which he took no questions, Compass, 47, noted that he had been a policeman for 26 years and chief for 3 1/2 years, saying, "I have taken this department through some of the toughest times in its history." But, he added: "Every man in a leadership position must know when it's time to hand over the reins to someone else."

He gave no reasons for resignation, but it came on the same day that the Police Department announced that about 250 officers, about 15 percent of the force, would be investigated for absences without permission in the days after the storm.

On Tuesday, an editorial in The New Orleans Times-Picayune accused Compass and Mayor C. Ray Nagin of embellishing stories of mayhem at the Convention Center and the Superdome in the chaotic days following the hurricane.

William J. Riley, the deputy superintendent, was named acting superintendent by Nagin, who called Compass a "hero."

Privately, some police officers said Compass may have considered resigning even before Katrina struck.

In other hurricane news:

Democratic senators on Tuesday called on the Senate Commerce Committee to formally investigate gasoline price hikes in the wake of the two hurricanes that hammered the Gulf Coast.

"There is gouging," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "It's as plain as the nose on your face."

The Democrats also want the committee to investigate the Federal Trade Commission, a federal agency charged with protecting consumers. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the FTC has done so little about gas prices that its initials now stand for "Fail The Consumer."

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said Tuesday that after the two destructive hurricanes that battered the nation's energy heartland, the administration would intensify its push to expand energy development on public lands including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the nation's coastal waters.

"The vulnerability of having all the energy supplies and refining and processing capacity in one geographic area reinforces the idea that we need diversity of supply," Norton said in an interview with The New York Times.

While Norton took no position on a congressional proposal to end a 25-year moratorium on oil leases on the outer continental shelf and to eliminate internal departmental appeals of administration decisions to lease public lands, she did not reject its approach.

She said she had read only a two-page summary of the measure, which is before the House Resources Committee, but she was open to the idea of alternative energy development on public lands.

As follow-up to the president's statements Monday, urging Americans to conserve gasoline, White House staffers are being reminded to adjust thermostats and shut down computers, faxes and printers at the end of the day.

Public transportation and car pools are a good idea, too, they're being told.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that notices were being sent to staff with energy-saving tips.

Bush also directed that his motorcade be scaled back, his spokesman said.

Another conservation tip to federal employees was to not let cars waste gas by idling, McClellan said on Air Force One as Bush flew to Texas to inspect hurricane damage. The Air Force has estimated it costs $40,000 an hour to fly Bush's 747, according to the book "Air Force One," by Kenneth T. Walsh. The bulk of the cost is fuel.

The Louisiana Health Department reported Katrina's death toll at 885, up from 841. That pushed the Gulf Coast total to 1,122.

In Texas, which continues to recover from Hurricane Rita, the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston put out a list Tuesday night of 31 deaths "associated with Hurricane Rita" between Sept. 21-26. The victims, 19 women and 11 men and a baby boy, ranged in age from 14 months to 92 years.

At least 19 of the deaths appeared linked to the chaotic evacuation when many of the 2.5 million people who fled the oncoming storm spent 12 hours or more stuck in gridlocked traffic in 100-degree heat.

Previously, nine deaths had been directly attributed to Rita — eight in Texas and one in Mississippi.

Contributing: Julia Silverman and Nedra Pickler, Associated Press; Felicity Barringer, New York Times News Service; and Marilyn Geewax, Cox News Service