Amid fears that the effort to repopulate New Orleans is stalling, Mayor C. Ray Nagin hopscotched shelters across the state Wednesday to assure Hurricane Katrina evacuees that the city is beginning to operate again and urged them to "come on home."
It is a daunting task. New Orleans's lower Ninth Ward reopened to residents Wednesday, but few came back. The number of students in neighboring communities has been reduced by half. Business owners are desperate for workers, and city leaders are increasingly concerned that many residents will never return.
Evacuees are scattered across 44 states, and many have vowed to remain where they landed.
Red Cross officials say about 550,000 remain in hotels and motels subsidized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency...
[Thad] Allen said the relief effort's "number-one priority" is to place Louisiana storm victims who need government help in long-term housing within the state, unless and until doing so proves unfeasible.
The government's head of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts made a surprise visit to a newly built trailer park Saturday and said plans are moving forward for hundreds of similar makeshift towns to house residents displaced by the storm.
U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen called the construction of the park that holds more than 570 trailers next to this city some 91 miles northwest of New Orleans "pretty remarkable."
"This went from nothing to something in about five weeks," said Allen, who chatted with some of the residents who have filled nearly 200 of the small trailers equipped with air conditioning, plumbing and TV antennas.
Allen also checked out day's food offerings: barbecued beef sandwiches, coleslaw and potato salad. "Looks good to me," he said.
The park is laid out like a small town, with gravel roads, street lights and power lines.
Allen said about 120,000 trailers and mobile homes are expected to be delivered to Louisiana for evacuees in the coming weeks. The optimum size of each park will be about 200 housing units, but they also may be placed on the property of residents who no longer can live in their original homes and other people may wind up in hotels, he said.
President Bush has said all Gulf Coast evacuees should be out of shelters by the middle of this month. The American Red Cross on Saturday said 23,970 Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita had stayed in shelters around the country the night before.
On Tuesday, Nagin had harsh words for the federal government's top official in the city, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who he said "stepped outside his lane by talking directly to the citizens of New Orleans."
And, as an example of why some people refused to evacuate before the hurricane:
...Del Juneau, owner of a Bourbon Street lingerie shop in the once-raucous French Quarter, said it would be premature to order another evacuation based on the storm nearing Florida. "Where are you going to go? What are you going to do?" he said. "I'm not going anywhere."
The city requested 200 buses to assist in an evacuation. They would start running 48 hours before landfall from the downtown convention center and a stadium in Algiers.
Someone else please review and summarize this NYT article. I note with some relief that their output appears to be dwindling as it's only three screenfuls. A "liberal" offers a summary here.
Admiral Allen, who was put in charge of the federal government's emergency operations along the Gulf Coast a week ago Friday, said entrenched bureaucracies hampered attempts to accelerate his top priorities: aid to residents, providing housing and clearing the vast swaths of wreckage from homes and trees damaged by the storm.
Working from Baton Rouge, William Lokey, FEMA's coordinating officer for the three-state region, echoed Admiral Allen's criticisms. "It is not going as fast as I would like, and yes, I do not have the resources I would like," he said on Thursday. "I am going as fast as I can to get them."
The problems clearly stem largely from the sheer enormousness of the disaster. But the lack of investment in emergency preparedness, poor coordination across a sprawling federal bureaucracy and a massive failure of local communication systems - all of which hurt the initial rescue efforts - are now also impeding the recovery...
"If the billions of dollars that have been spent on chemical, nuclear and biological response, if some of that had come over here, we would have done better," he said. "But after 9/11, the public priority was terrorism."
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen said federal officials have worked with Mayor Ray Nagin and support his vision for repopulating the city, but he called Nagin's idea to return up to 180,000 people to New Orleans in the next week both ``extremely ambitious'' and ``extremely problematic.''
...Allen said a prime public health concern is the tap water, which in most of the city remains unfit for drinking and bathing. He said he was concerned about the difficulties of communicating the risk of using that water to people who return and might run out of the bottled water they brought along...
...Another concern, Allen said, was the risk of another storm hitting the region, threatening an already delicate levee system and possibly requiring residents to be evacuated again...