- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Federal officials today will ask New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin to cease urging residents to return to New Orleans because of unsafe health conditions, unstable levees and no 911 system to evacuate the area again during the ongoing hurricane season.

On Saturday, Mr. Nagin began allowing business owners back into the city to assess property damage and today wants to begin moving 180,000 residents back into their flooded homes.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who is leading the federal operation, will advise against repopulating the city when he meets with Mr. Nagin.

“I have spoke in the last 24 hours with the head of the EPA and the director for the Center for Disease Control, and our collective counsel is for him to slow down and take this at a more moderate pace,” Adm. Allen told “Fox News Sunday.”

“I promised him a frank and unvarnished report on the status of the city and its ability to accommodate a general repopulation. We are not prepared to do that in the near term,” Adm. Allen told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Preliminary sampling by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the standing water in New Orleans indicates high levels of E. coli and fecal coliforms creating a significant health hazard, and there is no potable water in the city or electricity, Adm. Allen said.

Mr. Nagin planned to re-open Algiers, the Garden District and the French Quarter in the next two weeks, saying the people of New Orleans need “every chance for a sense of closure and the opportunity for a new beginning.”

However, new evacuation plans and a working communications plan are necessary before moving forward with a repopulation plan, Adm. Allen said.

“We are working on an evacuation plan in how we would evacuate the general population as part of an overall re-entry plan. The announcement to move the repopulation up ahead of any of those completed tasks, in our view, puts the city at risk.”

The death toll in the Gulf Coast region is 883, and officials have completed about 90 percent of the house-to-house searches. Much of New Orleans remains under water, and Key West, Fla., was put on a hurricane alert yesterday with that storm system that may be entering the Gulf of Mexico and strengthening.

“If there’s another severe weather event, we could have serious flooding into the city,” Adm. Allen told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Also appearing on CBS, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, called it “very disturbing” that some officials are putting too much emphasis on getting people back into New Orleans too quickly.

“I think Admiral Allen was exactly right,” he said. “We want to make sure that we get it right this time, that people are safe, that the situation there is secure, that we have basic infrastructure in the event that there was another hurricane. We’re still toward the tail end of hurricane season.”

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