- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Residents of one New Orleans neighborhood were invited to come home yesterday to “help us rebuild the city.”

A line extended out of a Winn-Dixie supermarket as locals stocked up on ice, milk and other staples in Algiers, the first New Orleans neighborhood officially reopened by Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

At a Texaco station, owner Mohammed Mehmood returned to find damage both from the storm and from looting. His gas pumps were vandalized, his computers did not work, and his ceiling was about to collapse.

“I have immediate problems,” he said. “I have no money. They broke and stole everything.”

The neighborhood of 57,000 people lies across the Mississippi River from the main part of New Orleans and largely escaped flooding from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Unlike most of the rest of the city, Algiers has electricity and clean water.

Mr. Nagin also invited business owners in the central business district, the French Quarter and the Uptown section to inspect their property and clean up. But he gave no timetable for reopening those parts of the city to residents.

“With Hurricane Rita behind us, the task at hand is to bring New Orleans back,” Mr. Nagin said. “We want people to return and help us rebuild the city. However, we want everyone to assess the risks and make an informed decision about re-entry plans.”

Mr. Nagin has suggested that only people who are mobile — not families responsible for children or elderly people — come back.

“That’s going to be the reality of New Orleans’ moving forward,” he said.

In neighboring St. Bernard Parish, so heavily damaged by flooding that many buildings will have to be demolished, officials allowed residents to return yesterday to see their sodden homes.

Owen Pascual, 68, gently laid his daughter’s ruined wedding gown on the front stoop of his flood-destroyed home.

“There’s nothing you can save,” Mr. Pascual said. “There’s nothing worth saving except for the things of sentimental value.”

Mr. Nagin had opened Algiers last week as part of a plan to get the city of a half-million inhabitants up and running again quickly, but he was forced to backtrack as Rita closed in and President Bush and other federal officials warned that New Orleans was not safe.

Exactly as officials feared, some of New Orleans’ battered levees failed to hold during Rita’s onslaught, and some already devastated neighborhoods — including the abandoned 9th Ward — were swamped all over again.

The mayor said a curfew would be in place from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and warned there were limited police and firefighting services and no critical-care hospital services.

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman has said areas newly flooded this weekend by Rita could be pumped dry within a week after levee damage is repaired, far sooner than initially predicted.

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