Some Business Owners Return to New Orleans

Some business owners in New Orleans are allowed to return to their properties. In a week, as much as 40 percent of New Orleans may begin to welcome returnees. It's a symbolic boost for a city that still faces a daunting cleanup and reconstruction task.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Today the city of New Orleans will officially open to a few business owners. Mayor Ray Nagin wants them to come in and prepare for residents who will return to the city starting on Monday. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

In the next week, Mayor Nagin expects to open enough areas of the city for about 40 percent of its residents to return. A few have already slipped by security at checkpoints and started working on their property, but most are waiting for the official word. The first area to open will be Algiers, across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. Soon after, the French Quarter will officially reopen. Richard Pope is a painter from Detroit. He's one of many workers who've come in from around the country to help rebuild the city. Standing under a hotel entrance, he opens the back of his truck to reveal roles of plastic sheeting and a very strong paint smell.

Mr. RICHARD POPE (Painter): We've brought almost 500 gallons of paint, and we--in two vans, a convoy. We left Detroit at 2:00 Wednesday.

BRADY: He was in New Orleans the next day, and likely will be here for more than a month. In that time, he has 96 hotel rooms to paint.

Mr. POPE: Started at 7 in the morning and we got about--I don't know--five hours of sleep and started--you know, started going painting the town, as they say.

BRADY: Pope says he also has a parking garage and a pool to paint, and he expects more jobs will come his way. As residents return to New Orleans, they'll find a city that for the most part is still without electricity, does not have drinkable water, has no mail service and smells awful because of the decaying muck that still lines most streets. Still, many are expected to return, even though they won't be able to stay overnight. That's because a dusk-to-dawn curfew will remain in effect. Police and the military are preparing to manage the large numbers of people who'll travel in on highways in the morning and then leave again in the evening.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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