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Friday, September 16, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Parts of New Orleans to be reopened

NEW ORLEANS — Declaring his flood-scarred, depopulated town "will breathe again," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said yesterday the French Quarter, downtown business district and other viable neighborhoods would reopen under a phased plan starting this weekend.

Defying predictions the city would stagnate for months until essential services were restored, authorities decided to allow residents and business workers to begin returning under a staggered resettlement.

As many as 180,000 residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina will eventually be allowed to move back into homes and apartments that escaped overwhelming flood and storm damage, the mayor said.

"It is a good day in New Orleans," Nagin said. "The sun is shining. We're bringing New Orleans back. This is our first step. We are opening up this city, and almost 200,000 residents will be able to come back and get this city going once again."

The move will quickly revitalize many of the city's iconic sections: the iron-gated balconies and neon-lit strip joints of the French Quarter, the whitewashed Civil War mansions of the Garden District and the hotels and office towers of the Central Business District.

But even as he hailed his city's semi-return, Nagin acknowledged that dwellings that housed half of the city's 450,000 residents will have to be razed.

Under a plan approved by Nagin and by state and federal officials, business owners will re-enter this weekend. Residents will follow, returning to lightly damaged west bank and central city neighborhoods next week and then to the French Quarter a week from Monday.

Floodwaters still cover 40 percent of the city, but there has been swift progress by repair crews in restoring electricity and water service.

Nagin cited a recent round of government-conducted environmental tests showing that remaining floodwaters still contain dangerous bacteria and chemicals, but that the city's air is safe to breathe.

Nagin gave a nod to state officials and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose officials he had blasted a week before for failing to move quickly to aid the city. At his side yesterday was Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who took over the federal relief effort from former FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned Monday.

An official of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday downtown New Orleans will be clear of floodwaters by Oct. 2, and the eastern part of the city by Sept. 30 — a week earlier than previous estimates.

Col. Duane Gapinski said pumps are removing about 7 billion gallons of floodwater a day.

Evacuees

Many plan to stay

in Houston area

HOUSTON — Fewer than half of all New Orleans evacuees living in emergency shelters in Houston say they will move back home, while two-thirds of those who want to relocate plan to settle permanently in the Houston area, according to a survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The wide-ranging poll found these survivors of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath remain physically and emotionally battered but unbroken.

They praise God and the U.S. Coast Guard for saving them, but nearly half still sought word two weeks after the storm about missing loved ones or close friends who may not have been as lucky.

Most know they have no home left. The overwhelming majority lack insurance to cover their losses. Few have bank accounts, savings accounts or usable credit cards.

Still, nearly nine in 10 said they were hopeful about the future. And while half say they feel depressed about what lies ahead, just a third say they were afraid.

The poll vividly documents the immediate and dramatic changes Hurricane Katrina has brought to two major American cities.

It also suggests that what may be occurring is a massive, perhaps permanent, transfer of a bloc of poor people from one city to another.

Mississippi damage

State sues insurers

to cover flooding

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi sued insurers to force them to pay billions of dollars in flood damage from Hurricane Katrina yesterday, saying standard insurance policies have led homeowners to believe they are covered for all hurricane damage, whether from high winds or storm surges.

To deny coverage to those whose homes were wiped out by the storm surge, but lacked flood insurance, is "taking advantage of people in the most dire straits," said Attorney General Jim Hood, who filed the lawsuit.

Hood said storm-surge damage has been estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion.

He asked the Hines County Chancery Court to void provisions in the policies that attempt to exclude from coverage losses or damage directly or indirectly caused by water, whether wind-driven or not.

Lobbyist

Disaster adviser

working for insurer

WASHINGTON — As ex-federal disaster chief James Lee Witt advises Louisiana's governor on hurricane recovery, he is also working for an insurance company lobbying Congress to create a fund to ease insurers' burdens from disaster claims, records show.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency director and his firm, James Lee Witt Associates, registered this week to lobby for Allstate Insurance. Their mission: "to draft and introduce model legislation creating a natural disaster-catastrophe fund," says the registration, posted yesterday by the Political Money Line lobbying tracking service.

Witt's lobbying for the fund comes while he's working for the state of Louisiana. Gov. Kathleen Blanco hired him this month to advise her on the state's Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Witt is mindful of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, so he and his firm are turning away prospective clients that want them to lobby in Louisiana, said Barry Scanlon, a firm partner and lobbyist.

Trade

Exporters hope

for lower tariffs

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — From Mexican cement to Brazilian plywood, Latin American makers of construction materials see a business opportunity in the rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina, and a chance to breach trade barriers that limit U.S. sales of their goods.

Many exporters hope Katrina will accomplish what Latin American politicians and business leaders have failed to do: persuade American authorities to lower or eliminate tariffs on imports from emerging economies.

Even if the trade doors slam shut after the U.S. Gulf Coast rebuilds, exporters see the opening as a chance to build long-term business relationships with American buyers.

U.S. officials signaled this week they may reduce high tariffs on Mexican cement and Canadian lumber, though any such effort is sure to draw opposition from some U.S. lumber and cement producers.

Also

California plea: Warning that California's capital was unprepared to handle major flooding, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called yesterday for $92 million in new federal spending on Sacramento's levees.

FCC phone aid: The Federal Communications Commission said yesterday it would allocate $211 million to restore communications services to Katrina victims, including providing mobile handsets and 300-minute calling cards.

TV bureaus: Anticipating the recovery will be a big story for months, NBC and CNN said yesterday they are opening full-time news bureaus in New Orleans.

Cash recouped: National Guardsmen used armored vehicles to retrieve wads of soggy cash from a flooded-out vault a few blocks from the Superdome. Loomis, Fargo, the armored-car company, had been unable to reach its vault since the hurricane and had asked officials for help.

Dolphin rescue: Two dolphins that were swept from their aquarium tanks in Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico by Katrina were rescued yesterday, but six others remained at sea.

Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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