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Katrina's Aftermath

New Orleans Shows Modest Signs of Life

Some repairs begin downtown, but other areas remain virtually silent. As Bush arrives, state officials criticize FEMA's efforts to provide housing.

September 12, 2005|Nicholas Riccardi, Ashley Powers and Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writers

NEW ORLEANS — The steady ebb of floodwaters allowed cleanup crews to tackle mountains of debris and press ahead with recovery efforts Sunday, while President Bush flew to the hobbled Crescent City to review a mounting federal relief effort still mired in conflict.

The president arrived Sunday afternoon at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which resumed cargo flights after two weeks of curtailed air service. He was met by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin; Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, the new point man for the federal relief effort; and Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who commands military troops mobilized along the portion of the Gulf Coast struck by Hurricane Katrina. Bush is to take his first tour of the city today by military convoy and then travel to Gulfport, Miss.

Allen, who replaced besieged Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown as the man in charge of hurricane aid, said on "Fox News Sunday" that "things are working wonderfully here on the ground." But he acknowledged in an ABC interview that he was "finding a lot of frustration, and it's a lot easier to deal with frustration than with anger."

New controversy flared over the pace of FEMA's efforts to provide housing to some of the 1 million people in the region displaced by the hurricane. Louisiana emergency officials charged Sunday that temporary housing promised by FEMA for 58,000 displaced residents had yet to materialize. FEMA officials denied there was a problem, insisting that 1,000 housing units were already on the way.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Chalmette, La. -- An article in Monday's Section A about recovery from Hurricane Katrina described Chalmette as being across the river from New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. The town and the parish are on the same side of the Mississippi River as New Orleans.

Nagin questioned FEMA's motives, criticizing the agency for its plans to build a temporary tent city for thousands of New Orleans evacuees deep in rural Louisiana. "For the most part," Nagin told NBC's "Meet the Press," "that would be a huge mistake because [flood victims] are getting much better care -- hospital care, housing care, support" in Texas.

Almost two weeks after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the city's downtown displayed the first frail pulses of a city on the mend. Portable generators droned and air drills whined as work crews swarmed through the French Quarter, corralling mounds of street trash and starting repairs on hotels flayed open by Katrina's 140 mph winds.

There were glimpses of normalcy, too, in the suburbs. In Belle Chasse, La., a milelong column of cars brought thousands of evacuees back to Plaquemines Parish -- the first state residents allowed to return to their homes permanently. Many who returned to the parish discovered their homes barely damaged and plunged into old rites, firing up lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

After 13 days underwater, New Orleans' wastewater treatment plant was expected to reopen today. And federal public safety officials said that a military C-130 cargo plane was to begin spraying clouds of insecticide across the city Sunday to kill a growing population of disease-bearing mosquitoes. Authorities said the aerial spraying would not pose a health threat to emergency workers and the city's remaining population.

On Louisiana Superdome ramps that were used as teeming outdoor campgrounds last week by thousands of hurricane survivors, mechanical street-sweepers were carving broad pathways through garbage. Beeping backhoes tore into crumbled Sheetrock outside the old Hotel Chateau Dupre, where two workmen argued about the city's future as they trudged up four flights of stairs to repair waterlogged walls.

"Betcha a lot of people aren't coming back," taunted Marvin Bell, 40.

"It doesn't matter," replied Pedro Palma, 63. "The people they need are tourists, and they're gonna come back."

But the bustling signs of renewed life downtown were deceptive, the false front of a still-shattered metropolis. Just blocks away, the staccato of construction crews faded, replaced by the hush of ghost neighborhoods where floodwaters lapped and screen doors creaked in the breeze.

On Elysian Fields Avenue, not far from Interstate 10 north of the city center, abandoned houses bore telltale marks left behind by troops prowling for residents reluctant to leave and corpses. A row of cars newly liberated by retreating floodwater were caked in grime.

Along one row of water-marked clapboard houses, "9/11" was scrawled on door after door, an indicator that troops had visited earlier on Sunday -- the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks -- and found no one home.

City officials have held off on plans to forcibly evacuate an estimated 5,000 residents, but soldiers and emergency volunteers still prowled downtown and remote neighborhoods on Sunday, searching for the dead while still trying to persuade holdouts to leave.

Although the city remained under mandatory evacuation orders, Capt. Marlon Defillo, a New Orleans police spokesman said, "we will not force anyone out of their homes."

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