- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

From combined dispatches

Eager French Quarter bar, restaurant and shop owners yesterday began removing plywood from windows and cleaning up, getting a one-day jump on today’s scheduled opening of the New Orleans entertainment district.

“We decided that if we are one of the first owners to open, then it would inspire others to do the same,” said R.R. Lyon, who owns a gallery with his son Taylor.

“Once the French Quarter residents are allowed back in, you’ll be surprised how fast this place will come back to life,” he said.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said the historic district’s business owners could return today for the first time since Hurricane Katrina crippled the city on Aug. 29. In a few days, residents will begin moving back into this city one ZIP code at a time, potentially returning about a third of the population in the next two weeks.

Security will be tight in the reopened neighborhoods that will have a dawn-to-dusk curfew, with Mr. Nagin and others vowing never again to let New Orleans slip into the lawlessness that gripped the city in the days after the storm. This week, he warned potential looters that soldiers carry M-16 rifles “and they’ve got bazookas for some of you.”

“It’s ridiculous, the curfew,” said Franco Valobra, owner of a jewelry and antique shop in the French Quarter, which is world-famous for its risque night life. “Once it’s open, it’s open.”

More than 50 percent of the city remains under water. It is expected to be drained by the first week of October but many of the remaining parts will be uninhabitable for months, officials say.

Bodies are still feared hidden in neighborhoods that remain heavily flooded, and power is still out in most of the city.

As residents prepare to return, some 4,500 federal troops sent to help restore order are being sent home in the coming days as the military scales back its presence in the Gulf states, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The total number of active duty and National Guard troops in Mississippi and Louisiana is now down to 61,719 from a high of about 72,000.

In Washington, President Bush’s call for a wider military role in handling domestic disasters prompted the Pentagon yesterday to examine what more it can do. Some analysts worried about a policy that might subordinate civilian authorities to the armed forces.

One necessary step is a reassessment by Congress of “archaic laws” barring federal troops from domestic policing duties, said Lawrence Di Rita, chief Pentagon spokesman.

In a speech to the nation from New Orleans Thursday night, Mr. Bush said Hurricane Katrina’s destruction along the Gulf Coast had left the response system at every level of government overwhelmed and poorly coordinated.

“It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces — the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice,” Mr. Bush said.

Appearing with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington yesterday, Mr. Bush did not provide details about the broader military role, and said he did not want to prejudge the findings of a congressional probe into the widely criticized response to Katrina.

Louisiana’s death toll stood at 558. The total along the entire Gulf Coast was 794.

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