Bush Questions New Orleans Reopening Timing

President Bush told reporters Monday that he was deeply concerned about New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin’s decision to start opening parts of the city today, noting several safety, environmental, and logistical problems.

Bush Questions Reopening of New Orleans (ABC News)

President Bush on Monday questioned the plan to allow residents to return to New Orleans, saying there are too many concerns about additional flooding and safety in the city. “We want this city to re-emerge. As I said, I can’t imagine America without a vibrant New Orleans. It’s just a matter of timing,” Bush said. “We’re cautious about encouraging people to return at this moment of history.”

Bush spoke as residents began trickling back into the city Monday morning as part of a reopening plan by Mayor Ray Nagin one ZIP code at a time. Over the next week, the Uptown neighborhood, the Garden District and the historic French Quarter are set to reopen to residents and businesses at Nagin’s invitation, bringing a total about one-third of New Orleans’ half-million inhabitants back.

Bush said there is “deep concern” about the possibility that Tropical Storm Rita, which was headed toward the Florida Keys, could head into the Gulf of Mexico and drop more rain on New Orleans. If that happened, he said he has been warned that the city’s levees could not hold and would be breached again. In addition, Bush said there are significant environmental concerns. New Orleans still lacks drinkable water, and there are fears about the contamination levels in the remaining floodwaters and the muck left behind in drained areas of the city.

“We have made our position loud and clear,” Bush said. “The mayor is working hard. The mayor you know, he’s got this dream about having a city up and running, and we share that dream. But we also want to be realistic about some of the hurdles and obstacles that we all confront in repopulating New Orleans.”

The president said he “absolutely” would intervene personally on the matter with Nagin, and that he meant for his public comments to make sure that the mayor gets the point. But he stressed that Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, head of the federal government’s hurricane response who was delivering the concerns to Nagin in person on Monday, was the administration’s primary voice.

Ultimately, this is Nagin’s call. Were I making the call, though, I would trust the judgment of Allen and his advisors over Nagin and his, though, given what we know about each.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    Um, considering that T.S./Hurricane Rita could pose a threat to that area in th coming week, what exactly is the rush to go back?

  2. Herb says:

    Looks like a power play by Mayor Nagen. I think Nagen is “throwing his weight” to show that he is “Boss” and the feds can’t do a thing about it. Nagen is doing everything he can to shift the blame onto Bush for his own lack of initiative and concern for his own citizens when Katrina was first coming. Nagen is just typical of the corrupt Louisiana Political bosses that have kept a lot of people at or below the poverty level for years and years.

  3. McGehee says:

    To give Nagin perhaps more benefit of the doubt than he has earned, he may believe that New Orleans’ recovery from this will be best fueled by its own people, and the sooner they return the sooner it can get started. Or Herb may be right.

    But Mark’s right too. I’ve been fearing a “double tap” on New Orleans since Katrina hit. Rita is too close on Katrina’s track for comfort.

  4. ken says:

    If the part of the city he wants to re-open is part of the city originally settled then the people there should be safe from any further flooding from hurricanes. It is the areas reclaimed from marshland that should be avoided until the levees are rebuild and strength ed.

    Flooding from overflowing the Mississippi River levees would be caused more by heavy snow melt and rains upriver throughout the huge watershed. This risk is greatest in the spring.

  5. M. Murcek says:

    It’s Nagin’s call, but if there are deaths or other controversial problems as a result, guess who the press and the dems will blame…

  6. DL says:

    We wus sailing up the mouth of the dang Mississippi just fine – until me hull gat stuck on the that mess of school busses down thar!