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.