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Nagin Says New Orleans Is Better Prepared

March 22, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Determined to avoid a repeat of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, Mayor Ray Nagin says the city has improved its plans for evacuating residents during the upcoming hurricane season.

Residents would be bused away from the city rather than to shelters like the Superdome, where residents were stuck for days after Katrina hit. Locals also would be more likely to comply with evacuation orders now, Nagin said.

``People are pretty attuned to leaving if I say you have to leave, so I don’t see that as being as much of a challenge,″ Nagin said.

In an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Nagin said New Orleans is better prepared for the upcoming hurricane season because of stronger flood walls and better evacuation plans after Hurricane Katrina.

``If a Category 5 hits us, probably the city will be gone and the levees will still be standing. The work they’re doing is just incredible,″ Nagin said of ongoing work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps, which designed and built the city’s levees, has been heavily criticized by residents who note the city survived the worst of the Aug. 29 storm but then was swamped when flood walls broke, inundating 80 percent of the city with brackish water.

Many have expressed fear about the condition of the levees as the June 1 start of hurricane season approaches. But Nagin said he’s confident the Corps is using better materials and designs on the levees.

He is concerned, however, about the large number of travel trailers where people are living while they repair their homes. Because they are not very secure in high winds, the trailers may need to be evacuated faster than the rest of the city.

The 49-year-old mayor is up for re-election April 22 and faces two dozen candidates, including Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Audubon Institute chief executive Ron Forman.

While campaigning, Nagin has focused on rebuilding the city. On Monday, he endorsed a proposal that would allow all residents to rebuild homes in neighborhoods shattered by the hurricanes. An advisory commission had recommended flooded neighborhoods be replaced with parks and the city go slow in rebuilding low-lying areas.

Nagin said Tuesday the lack of enough trailers to house displaced residents who want to return to New Orleans is one of his biggest disappointments in the seven months since Katrina ravaged his native city.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 7,800 trailers have been placed in the city; 23,000 have been requested. A far greater number have been placed in Mississippi and other parts of Louisiana. But in New Orleans, fights over where to place the trailers and difficulty getting utilities have slowed placements, said FEMA spokeswoman Nichol Andrews.

New Orleans officials estimate about 189,000 of the roughly 455,000 residents who lived in New Orleans previously have returned. Nagin said he expects a significant jump in population after the end of the school year, when many families with children enrolled in schools elsewhere can return without disrupting their children’s education.

But he said the pace of rebuilding will likely depend on how quickly federal money flows down to the state and how quickly the state can implement plans for a buyout program designed to aid residents and encourage redevelopment.

``The worst-case scenario is the state creates an incredible bureaucracy to issue this (buyout) money, everything gets bogged down and bottle necked and lots of people get frustrated and we kind of limp along at half the population we had,″ he said.

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