- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The sounds of power saws and wood chippers filled parts of New Orleans yesterday as the French Quarter and other neighborhoods spared the worst of Hurricane Katrina were officially reopened to residents more than a month after the storm struck.

Along St. Charles Avenue, its famous streetcars still idled, Maury Strong and her husband were elated to return home and find they had electricity.

“I came back to air conditioning and CNN, so I’m happy. The fridge is on, the beer is cold,” she said. “I’ve been sobbing back in California for two or three weeks. I thought it was going to be much worse.”

Despite the misgivings of state and federal authorities, Mayor C. Ray Nagin threw open the French Quarter and the Uptown section as part of an aggressive plan to get the city back on its feet. Algiers, a neighborhood across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, reopened to residents on Monday.

Altogether, the neighborhoods account for about one-third of New Orleans’ half-million inhabitants. Most of the reopened areas have electricity, but only Algiers has drinkable water.

Serious hazards remain because of bacteria-laden floodwater, a lack of clean water and a sewage system that has not been fully repaired. The stench of garbage in some areas is overpowering, and stretches of the city are pitch-black at night.

Some residents came back only to pack and leave.

“We’re moving out of this stinking city,” Billy Tassin snarled as he loaded his daughter’s belongings into a truck, a day after finding his home fouled with knee-deep mud. “They can finish destroying it and burning it down without us.”

At the Red-Thread dressmaker’s shop on Magazine Street, Ilona Toth wept as she began packing up to leave 15 years after opening her business.

“It’s just too hard,” said Miss Toth, a Hungarian immigrant. “Every year a hurricane is always coming. We always have to evacuate, then clean up. It’s too much trouble.”

The city is 95 percent dry, said Maj. Jeff Kwiecinski of the Army Corps of Engineers. Water was still being pumped out of the devastated 9th Ward, but Maj. Kwiecinski said it would probably be gone by tomorrow.

Debris was stacked outside homes for miles, and included moldy mattresses and rows of refrigerators, duct-taped shut and leaking foul-smelling liquids. Burglar alarms sounded in many buildings as the power blinked on, a sharp counterpoint to the wood chippers grinding up fallen tree limbs.

Katrina’s death toll in Louisiana rose to 932 yesterday, the state health department said, while Mississippi’s toll climbed to 221 after a body was found under a collapsed motel.

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