- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — The port of New Orleans, the gateway to a river system serving 33 states along the Mississippi River, was back in operation yesterday, and the airport reopened to commercial flights for the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck more than two weeks ago.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin said dry areas of the hurricane-ravaged city — including the French Quarter, Uptown and the Central Business District — could be officially opened from dawn to dusk as soon as Monday, provided the Environmental Protection Agency finds the air and water are safe.

“We’re out of nuclear crisis mode and into normal, day-to-day crisis mode,” Mr. Nagin said.

But the good news was tempered by a rising death toll in Louisiana — which jumped by 144 yesterday to 423, as swiftly receding floodwaters gave rescue workers access to more neighborhoods — as well as financial concerns.

Mr. Nagin also said the city is out of cash and cannot make its next payroll. He said the city is working “feverishly” with banking and federal officials to secure lines of credit through the end of the year.

In Baton Rouge, the state’s attorney general charged the owners of a New Orleans-area nursing home with negligent homicide for failing to evacuate patients — 34 of whom died in floodwaters.

The signs of recovery came as President Bush took responsibility for failures in the federal response to the natural disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pledged to find permanent housing for survivors in shelters and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco lashed out at the slow recovery of bodies.

The dead “deserve more respect than they have received,” she said, accusing FEMA of failing to fulfill its responsibility to recover bodies. She said the state would sign a contract with a company already performing the task to ensure its continuation.

Calls to a FEMA spokesman in New Orleans, the Homeland Security Department in Washington, and Houston-based Kenyon International Emergency Services were not returned.

At the New Orleans waterfront, the port expected the arrival late yesterday of its first cargo ship since the hurricane — and at least three more ships by week’s end.

“It’s a historical moment. Two weeks ago, the prognosis was six months, so to pull it off so our customers have enough faith and confidence in us is very heartwarming,” said Gary LaGrange, port president and chief executive.

He added, “From a commercial and psychological standpoint, this is five stars. This shows the people of New Orleans their city is back in business.”

On Monday, a shipment of steel coils left the port by barge, bound for a Hyundai auto plant in Greenville, Ala., port spokesman Chris Bonura said. The arriving ship was carrying up to 500 containers of coffee and wood products from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

About noon yesterday, Northwest Airlines Flight 947 from Memphis, Tenn. — the first commercial flight to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport — landed with about 30 people aboard, far fewer than the jet could hold.

Those aboard included emergency workers from FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some carried only a few belongings in plastic bags and gym bags.

Among those returning to New Orleans was Steven Kischner, who said the mood aboard the plane was “eerie.”

“I’m anxious to get home to see what our house is going to look like,” said Sandy Rozales, who lives in the Lakeshore section of New Orleans, close to a levee break, and left on the last flight out of town Aug. 28 just before the hurricane hit.

She said those on the flight were “preoccupied thinking about what they’d see when they get home and hoping that the worst wasn’t quite what they got.”

The Orleans Parish coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard, said autopsies will be performed on at least 44 patients found dead at the 317-bed Memorial Medical Center. It was not clear how the patients died.

The number of deaths attributed to Katrina now stands at 657 — 423 in Louisiana, 218 in Mississippi, two in Alabama and 14 in Florida, according to officials in the different states.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. said the owners of St. Rita’s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish “were asked if they wanted to move [the patients]. They did not. They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming. In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these patients.”

Mable B. Mangano, owner and administrator of the nursing home, and Salvador A. Mangano, a co-owner, surrendered and were jailed. Mr. Foti said his office is also investigating deaths at a hospice in New Orleans.


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