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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

`A good day in the city of New Orleans.' That's how Mayor Ray Nagin described it in a news conference this morning.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): This coming Saturday and Sunday we will allow businesses to re-enter the city of New Orleans in the following areas: in the central business district, in Algiers, in the French Quarter and in uptown.

BLOCK: Mayor Nagin laid out a plan to gradually reopen some of the city's dry areas first to business this weekend, then to some residents next week. He says people can return to their homes starting Monday in the Algiers neighborhood; that's the area just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

SIEGEL: Joining Mayor Nagin at the news conference today, New Orleans' health director, Kevin Stephens, warned returning residents about one key contaminant that remains: the bacteria E. coli.

Dr. KEVIN STEPHENS (Director, New Orleans Health Department): E. coli as a coliform is located in water, so we are asking citizens to stay away from flooded water and flooded areas because E. coli is there and it can be of a health consequence.

SIEGEL: The French Quarter is scheduled to be reopened to residents on the Monday after next. Mayor Nagin said city officials were being especially cautious with the area because of its historic significance.

BLOCK: It's for that same significance that the White House chose Jackson Square at the heart of the French Quarter for a speech by President Bush tonight. The president is expected to speak for about 30 minutes to cameras set up on the square. There will not be a live audience apart from the large national audience following the speech by broadcast. Joining us to talk about the president's plans is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

And, Don, what have you learned so far about what the president's going to say tonight?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, he's going to focus on a number of areas. First, look for him to demonstrate that he's marshalling all the power of the federal government to help the region recover from this--you know, as he's expected to put it, `this unprecedented natural disaster.' So there is the leadership component that's very important. It's an area where there's been much criticism of the president since the storm hit. He will also talk broadly about the reconstruction effort, the rebuilding of New Orleans and of the damaged areas across the Gulf Coast. And while not being specific as to how that will proceed, he has said he wants decisions to be made by state and local governments. He will talk about providing help for housing, for schools and education, for job training because so many people were left with no job to go back to. And he'll talk about the federal government commitment to help small businesses recover.

And then look for him also to address the divide that this storm has exposed, the divide between rich and poor. So many people just didn't have the means to get out of New Orleans when the storm approached. And the president has certainly seen polls that show a majority of blacks see race as an issue in this, that a majority of whites do not. It's a divide he will feel compelled to address. And he'll say that there is no way the fact that most of those stranded in New Orleans were African-America--there's no way that that had any bearing on how soon the government responded. So that's pretty much what we know so far.

BLOCK: Don, with these plans for rebuilding and reconstruction, there's going to be a huge price tag attached to all that obviously.

GONYEA: Yes, and I am told he will not talk specifically about prices. Don't look for a big dollar sign. In fact, the White House is avoiding that. They don't want it to be that kind of a speech. They want it to be about ideas. They want it to be about the future, about providing some hope without specific costs mentioned. But do look for those calculations as to what it all may cost to be coming pretty quickly as people start really looking at what the president does propose tonight.

BLOCK: And then figuring out how to meet those costs. Do you do it by cutting back spending? Do you do it by raising revenues?

GONYEA: Again, no specifics, but the White House, I can tell you, is showing no indication that it's interested in changing its approach to taxes, which is a policy that loves tax cuts. That was already something that was on the agenda in Congress this session. It may stall because of all this. But so far, it looks like these costs of reconstruction will be absorbed and the federal deficit will increase. Already, $62 billion in emergency funds has been appropriated by Congress. Some estimates--and they're just estimates--say that that figure could hit $200 billion over the long term.

BLOCK: Don, thank you very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea.

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