Mayor Ray Nagin announced Thursday that large parts of the city will reopen next week, and the historic French Quarter the week after that. “The city of New Orleans will start to breathe again,” he said.
The announcement came amid progress in restoring power and water service and the day after the release of government tests showing that the floodwaters still contain dangerous bacteria and industrial chemicals, but that the air is safe to breathe.
The first section to reopen to residents will be Algiers, across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, on Monday, the mayor said. The city’s Uptown section, which includes Tulane University and the Garden District, will be reopened in stages next Wednesday and next Friday, he said. The French Quarter will follow on Sept. 26.
“The French Quarter is high and dry, and we feel as though it has good electricity capabilities,” the mayor said, “but since it’s so historic, we want to double- and triple-check before we fire up all electricity in there to make sure that, because every building is so close, that if a fire breaks out, we won’t lose a significant amount of what we cherish in this city.”
The reopened areas represent 182,000 residents out of a city of nearly half a million.
“We will have life. We will have commerce. We will have people getting into their normal modes of operations, and the normal rhythm of the city of New Orleans that is so unique,” the mayor said. He added: “It’s a good day in New Orleans. The sun is shining. …. We’re going to bring this city back.”
Nagin said there should be power in areas where people will be allowed back. But the water will be good only for flushing toilets, not for drinking and bathing, he said.
The mayor said major retailers will use the city’s Convention Center to supply returning residents with food, wood and other things they will need.
The return will mark the start of what the mayor said will probably be the biggest urban reconstruction project in U.S. history.
“My gut feeling right now is that we’ll settle in at 250,000 people over the next three to six months and then we’ll start to ramp up over time to the half- million we had before and maybe exceed,” he said. “I imagine building a city so original, so unique that everybody’s going to want to come.”
The death toll in Louisiana climbed to 474 on Wednesday, and it was expected to rise further as state and federal officials went about the monumental task of collecting the bloated and decayed corpses and identifying them through DNA. The total death toll in five states reached 710. AP