New Orleans Residents Wonder How They'll Rebuild

Reconstructing the damaged infrastructure of the Gulf Coast is a focal point for the Bush administration. Mark Schleifstein, staff writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, says many who lost their homes or saw severe damage are still unclear on how much of the city can be saved.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going to go next to Mark Schleifstein. He's a staff writer for The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Mark co-authored articles in 2002 warning of just about everything that has happened over the last few weeks and his home is still underwater we're told this morning. We've reached him in Baton Rouge.

Good morning, Mark.

Mr. MARK SCHLEIFSTEIN (Staff Writer, The Times-Picayune): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Well, now as a resident of New Orleans or--you're outside--but a normal resident of New Orleans, how did you respond to the president's speech?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Well, I'm still waiting for the obvious question that a homeowner wants to know and that is, `When can I get back into the city to take care of whatever goods I have left in the top floor of my house? And what am I going to be able to rebuild on? How's that rebuilding going to happen?' Those are both rather expensive questions for me personally.

INSKEEP: And are people talking about how they would rebuild, particularly homes like I presume yours, that were below sea level?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Yes. General Honore, who's been sort of leading this effort of the Corps of Engineers in the city, has been discussing in general terms what's going to happen. I mean, obviously, the houses are going to have to be razed one way or another. One way would be to fill much of the city that's below sea level. The other would be to--historically what has happened in south Louisiana--build houses on stilts again. Raise the houses probably using the space underneath the homes as garages as they do actually right on the coast. Very expensive proposition, both of those.

INSKEEP: Now the president did commit to the idea that New Orleans will rise again, as he put it. The federal government would work, he said, with state and local officials. How big a job are people taking on here when they commit to making this a vibrant city again and a safer city in the same location?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Well, the estimates before the storm for protecting the city from a Category 5 hurricane were that you would have to rebuild a large chunk of the city's levee system, add a whole bunch of rocks on waterways leading into Lake Pontchartrain and other parts of the area. That would cost $2 1/2, $3 billion and probably would actually cost at least double that. Plus, you've got the coastal restoration effort in advance of that. They would also help that effort, that's another $15 billion. None of those dollars have yet been really discussed by either Congress or the president in serious terms.

INSKEEP: Mark Schleifstein is a staff writer for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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