updated 9/9/2005 10:56:10 AM ET 2005-09-09T14:56:10

More than half the people in this country say the flooded areas of New Orleans lying below sea level should be abandoned and rebuilt on higher ground.

An AP-Ipsos poll found that 54 percent of Americans want the vast sections of New Orleans that were flooded by Hurricane Katrina moved to a safer location. About 80 percent of the city was flooded at the height of the flood. The city, home to about 484,000 people, sits six feet below sea level on average.

The fate of the flood-prone areas of the city is an open question. The aid pricetag already runs tens of billions of dollars. In the days after the hurricane, House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested the worst-flooded areas should be bulldozed and moved to higher ground.

The skepticism about restoring New Orleans below sea level comes as the public mood has darkened after one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. Those most likely to say that low-lying areas of New Orleans should not be rebuilt are whites over 45 years of age and Republican women.

“There’s a lot of history, but the fact remains that it remains below sea level,” said Kate Rehfus, a Republican from Fort Thomas, Ky., who loves New Orleans for its blues, beignets and Cafe Du Monde coffee. “It wouldn’t be the same by any means, but if it could be done, that would be best. This would never happen again.”

Vows to rebuild
Members of New Orleans City Council are vowing to rebuild the city — a task that would cost billions of dollars. The city has a long history and a rich tradition of distinctive jazz, matchless cuisine and Mardi Gras.

The Big Easy is a magnet for tourists, with more than 10 million visiting in 2004, spending almost $5 billion, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

More than four in 10 of the Americans polled said they want the city rebuilt where it is and the levees strengthened.

Some New Orleans residents were angry about any suggestion that their beloved city should not be rebuilt as it is.

“How many of those people have been to New Orleans?” said Alec Phoenix, a New Orleans resident who is currently in Los Angeles. “To say the city should be abandoned because it’s below sea level is an irresponsible statement.”

Joyce Jones, a retiree from Modesto, Calif., said: “If the levees were built stronger, they should put it back the way it is. We’re a nation of lots of smarts. Those Corps of Engineers can do just about anything.”

The nation’s pessimism after Katrina is reflected in the two-thirds, 65 percent, who say the country is headed down the wrong track — compared with 59 percent who said that last month.

Responses to Bush, relief efforts
President Bush’s job approval was at 39 percent, the first time it has dipped below 40 percent since AP-Ipsos began measuring public approval of Bush in December 2003.

Just over half, 52 percent, disapprove of Bush’s handling of hurricane relief.

Blacks were especially upset with Bush; 78 percent of blacks blamed the president for the poor response, compared to 49 percent of whites.

Two-thirds in the poll said state and local governments deserve much of the blame for the response.

The rapid rise in gas prices past $3 per gallon may have played a role in Bush’s 39 percent job approval. Seven in 10 said they disapprove of Bush’s handling of gas prices.

Despite their gloomy mood, people are donating to hurricane victims at record levels. Almost two-thirds in the poll say they have already given money — with about $600 million donated so far, according to groups that monitor donations.

The poll of 1,002 adults was conducted by Ipsos, an international polling firm, from Sept. 6-8 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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