New Orleans Ready To Make Comeback

NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES: US troops from the 82nd airborne pose for a group photo at the empty Bourbon street 17 days after Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, 14 Septbember 2005. AFP PHOTO/Menahem KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced Thursday that large parts of his city will reopen next week, and the historic French Quarter the week after that.

"The city of New Orleans will start to breathe again," Nagin said. "We're starting to bring New Orleans back culturally. We're starting to bring New Orleans back from a people standpoint, and we're starting to bring New Orleans back from the unique things that make New Orleans what it is."

Wealthy entrepreneurs held a power lunch today in the French Quarter, eating red beans and rice, a New Orleans favorite CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports.

The announcement came amid progress in restoring power and water service and the day after the release of government tests showing that the floodwaters still contain dangerous bacteria and industrial chemicals, but that the air is safe to breathe.

The first section to reopen to residents will be Algiers, across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, on Monday, the mayor said. The city's Uptown section, which includes Tulane University and the Garden District, will be reopened in stages next Wednesday and next Friday, he said. The French Quarter will follow on Sept. 26.

"The French Quarter is high and dry, and we feel as though it has good electricity capabilities," the mayor said, "but since it's so historic, we want to double- and triple-check before we fire up all electricity in there to make sure that, because every building is so close, that if a fire breaks out, we won't lose a significant amount of what we cherish in this city."

One local businessman quipped to Pitts, "It's kinda like a bad marriage. You gotta trade it in and get a new one."

In other developments:

  • According to an advance excerpt of his speech tonight in New Orleans, President Bush says the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast will be one of the largest reconstruction projects the world has ever seen. CBS News will broadcast and will provide a live Webcast of the speech at 9 p.m. EDT.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers says the pumping-out of New Orleans is going faster than expected. The Corps says most of eastern New Orleans and the adjacent parishes should be dry by the end of the month, about a week earlier than anticipated. The deepest water in the city is near Lake Ponchartrain, where it's still six to eight feet deep. That's a little less than half of what it was at the peak of the flooding.
  • The House has approved creation of a select, bipartisan panel to investigate the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Republicans pushed the measure through on a mostly partisan vote of 224-to-188. The panel will have a Republican majority, and Democrats renewed their warnings that they will boycott the committee.
  • As reported on Wednesday's , many Hurricane Katrina victims were surprised to learn that their paid-up insurance policy did not cover floods. Thursday, the Mississippi attorney general sued insurers to force them to make payments.
  • The Coast Guard and other rescue teams continued searching for bodies by boat and helicopter in areas that were still under several feet of water. A few homes in the area bore spray-painted marks indicating that bodies were inside.
  • A new CBS News/New York Times Poll shows 56 percent of Americans are less confident, after Katrina, in the government's ability to respond to disaster or terror. "Some of the failures that we saw, lack of communication at different levels of government, are things in a post-9/11 world we, frankly, can't tolerate," said White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett Thursday on CBS News' The Early Show.
  • The U.S. government should have pre-positioned more sandbags and helicopters in the New Orleans area before Hurricane Katrina struck so that repairs to broken levees could have started sooner, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday. "We knew that this system would not protect against a category four or five event," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock told a Pentagon news conference.