Return to New Orleans Stirs Debate
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Business owners were allowed back into New Orleans today--their first chance to check up on their property since Hurricane Katrina struck nearly three weeks ago. Mayor Ray Nagin wants them to clean up their shops and he wants to return up to 180,000 residents to the evacuated city in the next week. The head of the federal relief effort, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, says Mayor Nagin's time line is extremely problematic. NPR's Jeff Brady spoke with business owners from Algiers just outside New Orleans and filed this report.
JEFF BRADY reporting:
Newton's Discount Market has seen better days. Water and electricity have been restored, but walk inside and the smell is still overwhelming. Chocolate has melted in spots on the floor, and it's hard not to step in the greasy smudges. Owner Lym Voos(ph) says he'll reopen in a month or two.
Mr. LYM VOOS (Newton's Discount Market): We lucky the storm did not damage my store at all.
BRADY: So the building is OK.
Mr. VOOS: The building is OK. Life OK. We do it again; no problem.
BRADY: And you're healthy.
Mr. VOOS: Yeah. Thank you. We healthy, yes.
BRADY: He says he'll clean up the mess, then stock the important things like bread and milk, and then he'll worry about cigarettes and liquor. Voos says he's not upset about looters taking food and water. The same goes for Jill Marshall(ph) a few miles away. She owns a coffee shop called Tout Sweet. She says she was the victim of a friendly looting. People took the food and water they needed without destroying her property. She says Hurricane Katrina also spared her building. After seeing that others in the city lost everything, she felt guilty.
Ms. JILL MARSHALL (Tout Sweet): I felt guilty that I was alive. I felt guilty that my house was here, that my business was here, and that somehow I've got a debt to pay for that now.
BRADY: She started paying that debt by offering her neighbors free stuff, like the telephone company worker who pops his head in the door.
Ms. MARSHALL: You smell coffee. It's out on the sidewalk, baby. Help yourself.
Unidentified Worker: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Ms. MARSHALL: There's muffins, too.
Unidentified Worker: Thanks for coming.
Ms. MARSHALL: Ah, thank you. I'm glad you're all right.
BRADY: Marshall says she's trying to get her wireless Internet connection running so neighbors can stop by and check e-mail and apply for federal aid. Her least enviable job at the moment, though, is cleaning out refrigerators that had rotting food in them. Neighbor Kenneth Smiley is helping with that.
Mr. KENNETH SMILEY: Well, first we got the food rotting out, and then bleached it down by hand. Pressure-washed again. Then we put vinegar on there by hand, coated it, let it set an hour each stage, and then pressure-washed again yesterday. Then we put baking soda in there and let it set all night, and it's still a little bit stinky, or kinda lotta stinky.
BRADY: Smiley opens the door of a refrigerator sitting on the sidewalk and the odor can be detected from 20 feet away. All around Algiers, downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter, business owners are cleaning up, and starting Monday, residents will be doing the same thing, but they still won't be able to stay overnight in the city. That's because a dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in effect.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.
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