WASHINGTON – The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Sept. 18, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With the president setting down some markers this week for the reconstruction effort along the Gulf Coast, we want to check in again with Vice Admiral Thad Allen (search), the head of Katrina field operations.
Admiral, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday". Thousands of residents and business owners are returning to New Orleans over the next few days. But owners — but officials, rather, warn about polluted drinking water, contaminated soil and even the danger of more storms.
Admiral, are people being allowed back into the city too soon?
VICE ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN: Well, Chris, there are two things that are going on right now. One is yesterday and today, Sunday, business owners are being allowed back in the city to go to their businesses, assess them, take a look and see what damage might have been done to be able to make plans for the future.
That's being done under tight supervision. We have New Orleans Police Department personnel at access points and we have DOD forces out there providing support. Beyond that, any discussion regarding the repopulation of the city with the general population remains an issue that's under discussion right now, and I plan on meeting with the mayor of New Orleans on Monday.
WALLACE: Well, when you meet with the mayor, Ray Nagin (search), tomorrow, are you going to tell him it's too dangerous to have a general repopulation?
ALLEN: Well, Chris, it's not so much a matter of repopulation but the time line associated with it. The mayor's laid out a vision for an initial footprint of New Orleans, and everybody supports the mayor in wanting to get New Orleans started again.
In the view of the federal community, which I represent down here, it's more of a matter of when you are ready to go in. There are significant health and safety issues related to the quality of the potable water. In fact, there is no potable water.
There is standing water that has high concentrations of e. coli and fecal coliforms, and the levees have been weakened to the point where if you're going to bring a significant amount of people into New Orleans, you need to have an evacuation plan on how you're going to do that.
Those are the things that we're talking with the city about, and our counsel is before moving to a larger general population re-entry to the city, those plans need to be locked down.
WALLACE: Is it too soon to do it, as the mayor wants, this week?
ALLEN: Well, that's the subject of the meeting I'm going to have with the mayor on Monday. My job is to provide him the best counsel I can as a representative of the federal government down here.
It is the mayor's city, and local decisions rest with him and the city officials. However, we think there are significant issues that need to be raised. And I told him Friday when I met with him that I owe him a very frank, unvarnished, if you will, assessment of what's going on. And that's what I intend to do tomorrow.
WALLACE: But if it were a member of your own family, I take it, you would tell him what?
ALLEN: Well, we're potentially asking people to re-enter a city where there is no potable water. The only water that's available in the city is good for flushing or firefighting. We do not know what the state of the contamination is of sediment in other water around the area.
We're testing consistently daily with EPA and the Center for Disease Control (search), but there still is a lot to do. There's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be inspected, whether it's water mains, sewer mains, and so forth.
And the other thing that remains is the situation with the weakened levees and the need to be able to evacuate whatever people come into the city. Those are all significant issues that need to be thought out ahead of time.
WALLACE: But again, just to make it clear, this is the local decision. You, as the federal lead officer in this enterprise, can't stop the mayor if he wants to allow people to come back by the tens of thousands over the course of the next few days.
ALLEN: Well, it does rest with the mayor, but I think I'm capable of giving him some very good counsel. I have spoke in the last 24 hours with the head of the EPA and the director for the Center for Disease Control, and our collective counsel is for him to slow down and take this at a more moderate pace.
WALLACE: Admiral, thank you so much. We'll check back with you again soon to see how things are going. Best of luck to you, sir.
ALLEN: Thank you, Chris.