Some New Orleans residents can return home

A Chinook helicopter drops sandbags Sunday to repair the breach in the Industrial Canal levee in New Orleans.
A Chinook helicopter drops sandbags Sunday to repair the breach in the Industrial Canal levee in New Orleans.Kevork Djansezian / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Residents of one New Orleans neighborhood were told Monday they could return home again, and “help us rebuild the city.”

The New Orleans mayor’s office announced that residents of Algiers, which largely escaped the flooding brought by the twin onslaughts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, would be able to return home starting at 10 a.m. Algiers has working power, water and sewer services.

In addition, business owners in the Central Business District, the French Quarter and the Uptown section would be allowed in to inspect property and clean up.

Other areas of the city remain under mandatory evacuation, the mayor’s office said.

“With Hurricane Rita behind us, the task at hand is to bring New Orleans back,” Mayor Ray Nagin said. “We want people to return and help us rebuild the city. However, we want everyone to assess the risks and make an informed decision about re-entry plans.”

Algiers, a neighborhood of 57,000 people across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, also was the first section to reopen to residents last week, before the approach of Rita forced the city to halt its plan to reopen some neighborhoods.

Curfew to remain
Nagin said a curfew would be in place from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and warned there were limited police and firefighting services and no critical care hospital services. Only in the Algiers section was the city water fit to use for drinking or bathing, the mayor’s office said. Residents returning were allowed to travel only within their ZIP codes.

Some residents of nearby St. Bernard Parish, heavily damaged by Katrina’s flooding, also tried to return to the their homes Monday. They ran into a roadblock on Interstate 10 before daybreak and had a confrontation with police that backed up traffic for miles, WWL-TV reported.

State Trooper Lt. Chris Bodet said officers were trying keep the roads open for emergency vehicles, and had not been told to expect returning residents for a day or two.

Joseph DiFatta Jr., a parish councilman, said the council had an agreement with Nagin’s office to allow residents into the parish beginning at 6 a.m.

On Sunday, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said areas newly flooded this weekend by Rita could be pumped dry within a week after levee damage is repaired, far sooner than initially predicted.

“All indications are all operations are getting back to normal,” said Ted Monette, deputy federal coordinating officer for Katrina recovery.

Federal officials were coordinating with city officials on the effort allow evacuated residents to return to dried-out areas. Dry districts will eventually support a population of between 250,000 and 300,000, the mayor has said.

Visible signs of renewed life Sunday included the reopening of restaurants and ubiquitous utility crews working to restore electricity.

“The city is not going to survive unless it’s got people in it,” Kappa Horn said Sunday as she served up burgers to a steady stream of police and others who came her Slim Goodies diner in the Garden District. “I want to be part of rebuilding my city.”

Spared significant damage
Most of the city was spared significant new damage when Rita struck near the Texas-Louisiana line, but the hurricane’s rain and storm surge partially breached levees along the Industrial Canal, causing renewed flooding in the Ninth Ward. That is the section of east New Orleans that was submerged by Katrina and pumped dry just days before the second big storm.

The Army Corps of Engineers worked to pile rocks and sandbags in the breaks. Workers believe that once the breaches are closed, the Ninth Ward can be pumped dry in a week, said Mitch Frazier, a spokesman for the Corps.

Entergy, the state’s biggest power company, was assessing new damage in hard-hit southwestern Louisiana. More than 200,000 customers still lack power in the New Orleans area.

Nagin has suggested that only people who are mobile — not families responsible for children or elderly people — come back. “That’s going to be the reality of New Orleans moving forward.”

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal disaster effort in the city, sounded a further cautionary note.

“Where the mayor needs some thoughtful approach to is the areas that have been reflooded and the areas that may remain uninhabitable for safety, health and other reasons,” the admiral said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “And I think a timetable associated with that still needs to be worked out.”

Flying home
He did agree with allowing business operators to return to unaffected areas and letting residents return to Algiers.

A handful of evacuees returned to the city Sunday aboard a flight from Cincinnati.

“You go from joy to disbelief to sadness to just being tired, to just wanting to go home,” said Paul Jordan. “Our goal is to help rebuild the city, and we’re going to do whatever we can.”

But not everyone headed back to New Orleans plans to stay.

Haney Joudeh has resettled in Chicago and was coming to take photos of his clothing store, which he heard was looted, for the insurance company.

“It’s like starting a life all over. That’s it for me. There’s nothing left,” Joudeh said.