Katrina Update: Gulf Braces for Another Hurricane

Just days after some New Orleans residents were allowed to return to their city, they are being told to evacuate again as Hurricane Rita approaches. Alex Chadwick gets the latest on recovery efforts and the challenges posed by this new storm from Cheryl Corley, reporting from New Orleans.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

To New Orleans now where residents are again being told to prepare to leave as Hurricane Rita approaches the Gulf Coast area. Mayor Ray Nagin allowed some residents to return to their homes over the weekend, then reversed course yesterday. On NBC's "Today" show this morning, the mayor said he's worried about even an indirect hit from Rita.

(Soundbite from "Today")

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): This storm is probably equally as dangerous as Katrina because we're on the wet side of the storm. If it hits to the west of us, we will get the full brunt of whatever winds are out there and whatever rain is out there, and that's what concerns me.

CHADWICK: NPR's Cheryl Corley is in New Orleans. She joins us now. Cheryl, what's it like there for these evacuees? They're allowed in, and just a day or two later, they're told to go, there's another hurricane on the way.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Alex, as you can imagine, this is really frustrating. The mayor's original plan was to open up areas of the city that really hadn't been affected much by flooding, including a neighborhood called Algiers, which is across from the French Quarter on the other side of the Mississippi River. A lot of people had started to make their way back to Algiers; about a third of 60,000 residents had returned. I talked to several of them yesterday. They were cleaning up their homes, cutting grass, getting their roofs repaired and were really ready to settle in for the long haul but are now being told to leave again by Wednesday at the latest. Of course, a lot of these people are just tapped out financially, which makes it even more difficult; you know, they just came back and now having to go out again. But even so, the mayor said people here have seen the effects of Katrina, so if they want to sit this one out with the levee situation as it is here, then God bless them.

CHADWICK: Well, it does sound pretty dangerous. Are there people still trying to get back into the city?

CORLEY: I don't think so. That would be much more difficult to do with this evacuation order in effect. There are still checkpoints that you have to go through, even though that is somewhat spotty. The mayor's new order essentially puts the city off limits, so the effort is really on keeping people from coming into the city and focusing on evacuation.

CHADWICK: What's the status of the water level in the city now?

CORLEY: Well, it's--a lot of this area is very dry. I can't tell you in any kind of quantifiable number how much has been pumped out or anything, and there are still areas where houses are underwater, but in one neighborhood called Gentilly that was particularly hard hit by the flooding, a good portion is dry and drivable. So there's been this huge effort to make sure water is pumped out. And it looks like they might even be a little bit ahead of schedule, just by taking a drive around different areas of the city.

CHADWICK: President Bush is back in New Orleans again today. How is the relationship between federal officials and the president and Mayor Nagin as things go forward?

CORLEY: Well, it's been a kind of contentious and a stressful situation. The mayor criticized the federal government for its response to Hurricane Katrina. The president weighed in on Mayor Nagin's plan to bring people back to the area, saying he understood the mayor's dreams, but he may have jumped the gun, especially with the threat of Hurricane Rita. This is the president's fifth visit to the area and I would just say that the political pressure for both the president and for Mayor Nagin has been immense as they try to grapple with what Mother Nature has had in store for this area.

CHADWICK: Had in store and maybe has in store again. NPR's Cheryl Corley in New Orleans. Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

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