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New Orleans to Idle Dozers 2 Weeks

Community activists oppose city demolition plans. A federal court hearing is Jan. 19.

January 07, 2006|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The city agreed Friday to wait two more weeks before beginning to demolish thousands of hurricane-damaged homes, until a federal judge decides whether to hear a challenge from community activists.

However, the city reserved the right in the meantime to clear away perhaps 100 smashed homes pushed into the streets by floodwaters.

The city says as many as 5,500 homes and businesses on the east bank of the Mississippi River may need to be razed because they are unsafe. Mayor C. Ray Nagin has asserted that the city can demolish homes without the owners' consent if the buildings pose an imminent danger to the public. Community activists sued last month, saying no such authority existed.

Demolition opponents say they fear that some residents have not been able to gather belongings from their homes and that the city wants to destroy black neighborhoods and drive out the black population.

The city wants the case moved from state to federal court, and a federal hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19. If the judge agrees to take the case, he will then decide whether to let the demolitions go forward.

The delay was the second agreed to by the city since the lawsuit was filed.

"The people of New Orleans deserve to know what's going on and they deserve to know their homes will be protected while the court figures this out," said plaintiffs' lawyer William P. Quigley.

Franz Zibilich, an attorney for the city, said: "The city's intention is not to destroy property, believe me."

Meanwhile, a major bridge over Lake Pontchartrain reopened fully to traffic Friday. Hurricane Katrina's storm surge ripped giant sections of the 5-mile concrete Interstate 10 bridge and tossed some pieces into the lake. Other sections shifted by as much as five feet.

Blasting Nagin's administration, City Council members said Thursday that it would be unconstitutional to demolish homes without owner consent.

"This is still America," said City Council President Oliver M. Thomas Jr. He threatened to stand in front of any bulldozers that tried to crush homes in the 9th Ward, warning: "You got to be a bad dude if you're going to bulldoze me."

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