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New Orleans Suspends Return Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The mayor of New Orleans is suspending his plan to bring Hurricane Katrina evacuees back home. Instead, Mayor Ray Nagin says it's time for everyone to leave again since the latest storm to threaten the city, Hurricane Rita, may soon put residents at risk. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting

Under Mayor Nagin's original plan, evacuees who lived in areas scarcely affected by the floodwaters that devastated much of New Orleans could come home. Federal officials, including President Bush, warned the effort was premature since much of the city lacks drinking water and electricity. Mayor Nagin says the city was ready to meet those challenges, but Nagin says Rita is a threat the city's weakened levee system would not be able to withstand.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans, Louisiana): I am hopeful that people have seen the effect of Katrina and they understand the threat of a Category 3 coming right behind Katrina and that we won't have the struggles in getting people out like we had last time.

CORLEY: Most residents of New Orleans are already elsewhere, but in some areas of the city, there are signs of people who've returned. Newly mowed lawns, fallen tree branches stacked at the curbs, and, of course, house repairs. In Algiers, a neighborhood across the river from New Orleans' French Quarter, Lee and Georgia La Blanc(ph) watched as a roofer pounded new shingles on their damaged home. Now they're getting ready to move again in an effort to put any thought of storms and hurricanes behind them.

Ms. GEORGIA La BLANC (Algiers Resident): Just pack up and do like we did before, just get on the road and leave again. I mean, that's all we can do, leave the house behind.

CORLEY: Mayor Nagin, meantime, has a message for those who plan to stay in their homes.

Mayor NAGIN: If anybody wants to sit this storm out, with drain-soaked levee systems to protect some assets, then God bless them.

CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.