Bush Returns to a Struggling New Orleans

President Bush spoke from New Orleans on Wednesday after getting a first-hand look at reconstruction efforts in the city, still struggling to get on its feet six months after Hurricane Katrina. Noah Adams talks about the recovery efforts with Adam Nossiter of The New York Times, who has been reporting on the demolition efforts in the city's Lower Ninth Ward.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

President Bush today returned to the Gulf Coast--visit number 10 to that region since Hurricane Katrina. He's touring parts of New Orleans and the Biloxi/Gulfport area of Mississippi. He's calling on Congress to provide additional billions in federal money for rebuilding. After his arrival in New Orleans, the president said this:

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, we just came from a neighborhood where people are fixing to, are in the process of cleaning up debris. We went there because the mayor and the governor thought it was important for me to see first-hand the devastation of the storm in certain neighborhoods, and the progress that's being made for cleaning up the debris. There's still a lot of work to be done. No question about it.

ADAMS: On Monday, demolition machinery moved into the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. They're starting the job of taking down and carrying away ruined structures there.

Adam Nossiter of The New York Times watched the first house go down. I asked him how many homes are scheduled for demolition, eventually, in the lower ninth.

Mr. ADAM NOSSITER (Reporter, New York Times): In the short term, about a hundred and twenty. But in the long term, the engineers and the city officials estimate about 25,000 houses in New Orleans alone will have to come down.

ADAMS: My goodness, in this case, the Army Corp of Engineers is just completing what Katrina started, and you're standing there watching a house being torn apart, which is in the middle of the road, with the man who had helped raise eight children, you write, in that house over 44 years.

Mr. NOSSITER: That's right. It was a surprisingly emotional moment for those of us who have been here, and lived through the storm. It was surprisingly unemotional for Mr. Herbert Warren, Jr. At least on the surface, he was very stoic as he watched his house come down.

ADAMS: They just took it away on a truck?

Mr. NOSSITER: What happened was a huge track excavator backed up to the house, raised its boom, and then lowered it, teeth out, biting right into the top of the house, and devouring huge mouthfuls of it as we watched.

ADAMS: Hm.

Mr. NOSSITER: And loaded the resulting debris into a dump truck.

ADAMS: Just to be clear, Mr. Warren's house was indeed in the middle of the street, and those are the ones that are being taken down?

Mr. NOSSITER: Right, those are the ones that are going first. The ones that, as the city puts it, are blocking the public right of way. So, um there is so little traffic in that neighborhood, that it's really not blocking anybody. But yes, the houses in the middle of the street, or the piles of debris, that's all that's left of many houses, are the ones that are going first. But then, of course, I mean, there are many houses that didn't move off their foundations, that nonetheless collapsed insitu, as it were, and obviously, those are going to have to go as well.

ADAMS: You write that they're using cadaver dogs to try and determine if there are indeed bodies left in some of these houses. Is that a possibility in the lower ninth?

Mr. NOSSITER: It is indeed. In fact, just in the last few days, at least three more bodies have been found, two in the lower ninth ward, and one in the Lakeview area. So yes, there are still bodies out there. We don't know how many. Could be in the hundreds.

ADAMS: I'm wondering about the, about the timing. Is it possible that the city decided to put this off until after the party of Mardi Gras? In other words, have that fun, and now start this work in the ninth ward?

Mr. NOSSITER: Well, I don't think so. The city had initially wanted to get started on this back in December. But when it first announced, not terribly publicly, that it was about to go ahead, a lawsuit was immediately filed. With some justification, the lawyers who filed it said that those residents whose houses were to be demolished had not been properly notified, and so that held things up for some time, even to the extent of clearing piles of debris that were in the middle of what's left of the streets down there. So, I think that's the, really, the major reason why this is taken so long, six months after the storm. The lower ninth ward still looks very much like it did after the water had been sucked out of that neighborhood.

ADAMS: Adam Nossiter lives in New Orleans, and writes for the New York Times. Thank you, sir.

Mr. NOSSITER: Thank you.

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