New Orleans Residents Return to a Changed City

Many New Orleans business owners and residents are being allowed to return to certain neighborhoods this week. Cheryl Corley reports on the mayor's plan for returnees, and how they're faring in a city still largely without potable water or electricity.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

New Orleans now. The city's plan to bring people back after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area was put on hold when floodwaters walloped New Orleans again. This week, some businesses and residents are allowed in limited areas and more neighborhoods opened today. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Unidentified Woman: Hi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Late last night, there were already lights on at a house on Dante Street in the city's Uptown neighborhood. It's the base for Brian Frank(ph) and other members of a demolition crew who were laughing, resting and watching TV after a day of tearing down wrecked homes. Starting today, businesses can move back into Uptown. For Frank, it's welcome news. He used to live in the area and says he's glad people will be returning.

Mr. BRIAN FRANK (Demolition Crew): We need New Orleans to come back, you know, to bring the city back, 'cause...

Unidentified Man: Nothing like New Orleans.

Mr. FRANK: ...nothing like New Orleans, yeah.

CORLEY: Uptown and its historic Garden District is located in one of eight ZIP code areas officially opened today under Mayor Ray Nagin's re-entry plan. The city's population is on the rise slowly in the central business district, the French Quarter and Algiers, the neighborhood right across from the Quarter on the other side of the Mississippi River. There was little to no flooding in those areas during the recent hurricanes, and the mayor says they would likely be immune to floods again if there was another storm. Nagin says if all goes well today with businesses, there will be another change.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): Starting Friday, we are allowing people to come in, residents, for a look and stay. So come in, inspect your property. If you want to stay, you're free to stay.

CORLEY: Mayor Nagin says all of the homes in the targeted areas have been inspected. A sticker indicates whether they are safe or not.

Mayor NAGIN: If you see a red sticker on a home, that means that our inspectors think there is a structural hazard and we recommend you not go in.

CORLEY: If a home is uninhabitable, the city wants people to just take a look and leave by sunset. In its list of precautions to returning evacuees, the city warns that people will be entering New Orleans at their own risk. It may be too much of a risk, according to the head of the Louisiana Health Department. Dr. Fred Cerise says the city's tap water is not yet up to drinking standards.

Dr. FRED CERISE (Louisiana Health Department): We can tell you how to be safe with the water and boil it before you ingest it, used bottled water, but to the extent that people ingest the water anyway, they're going to be at risk.

CORLEY: Scott Boswell was one of the first to take that risk. He's co-owner and chef of Stella's Restaurant in the French Quarter. He opened up his new place, Stanley's(ph), even before the Quarter officially reopened, an oasis on a street full of empty storefronts. On the menu? A cheeseburger, chips and a Coke for five bucks.

Mr. SCOTT BOSWELL (Co-owner, Stella's Restaurant): All my intention was to create positive energy. And other New Orleanians, other French Quarter residents have showed them that the French Quarter is still here, you know. Even though our city is in devastation, we have to get going again.

CORLEY: Mayor Nagin says New Orleans has to fight a national impression that it's not ready, but if all goes as planned, next Wednesday evacuees will be able to return to take a look at their property in just about every section of the city except in the Lower 9th Ward, where water still stands. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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