Katrina: French Quarter May Reopen Monday
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin believes the French Quarter may be open as soon as Monday, although it may be months before it’s totally cleaned up.
Although the cleanup will likely take months, Mayor Ray C. Nagin said the tourist-friendly French Quarter and central business district may reopen as early as Monday after the Environmental Protection Agency said the foul-smelling air in the city was not overly polluted. Nagin said he expects about 180,000 people to return to the city within a week or two, when power and sewer systems are restored. Some retailers should be operating by then, as well as two hospitals.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard and other rescue teams continued searching for bodies by boat and helicopter in areas that were still under several feet of water. A few homes in the area bore spray-painted marks indicating that bodies were inside. The body count in Louisiana climbed to 474 on Wednesday, and it was expected to rise further as state and federal officials went about the tedious task of collecting bodies and identifying them through DNA tests. The total death toll in five states reached 710. “It’s going to take months, maybe years,” said Dr. Louis Cataldi, the coroner for Baton Rouge Parish. “This is not going away.”
President Bush planned to make a prime-time address from New Orleans on Thursday to offer new federal spending for the monumental task of helping hurricane victims rebuild their lives.
The most obvious sign of progress has come from the lights flickering on. About 168,000 customers were still without power in the New Orleans area, mostly in places still flooded, but that number has gone down 10,000 in a day. The Hibernia Corp., Louisiana’s oldest bank, whose landmark building was once the city’s tallest, turned on its lights at sunset Wednesday. The bank is well-known for the colors that light up the building’s cupola during the holidays. About 40 to 50 percent of the city was still flooded, down from 80 percent after Katrina hit, as pumps worked to siphon off 8 billion gallons a day.
Given the sheer level of devastating caused by the flooding, I’m surprised how quickly things are proceeding. There’s still a long way to go, of course.