Published March 21, 2006
NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans is better prepared for the upcoming hurricane season because of stronger flood walls and better evacuation plans since Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin said in an interview Tuesday.
"We should be able to sustain another Katrina," the mayor said.
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 told The Associated Press he's confident the Corps is using better materials and designs on the levees.
He also said that evacuating the city in the event of another hurricane should be smoother. He said he would be in closer contact with forecasters at the National Hurricane Center so he'll know quickly whether a mandatory evacuation will be needed. The one ordered two days before Katrina hit was the city's first.
Nagin said he is concerned about the large number of travel trailers in which people are living while they repair their homes. Because the trailers are not very secure in high wind, they may need to be evacuated faster than the rest of the city.
"They could turn into little missiles," Nagin said.
But he predicted residents would be more likely to comply with evacuation orders now. In the future, he said, they will be bused away from the city rather than to shelters like the Superdome, where residents were stranded in hot, dank conditions for days after Katrina hit in late August.
"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," he said.
Nagin is up for re-election April 22 and facing a slate of two dozen candidates, including Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.
The mayor said he believes the city can be mostly restored in the next five years.
New Orleans officials estimate about 189,000 of the city's roughly 455,000 pre-storm residents have returned, and 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 education.
He said the pace of rebuilding will likely depend on federal and state aid, but too much bureaucracy could hobble hopes for restoration.
"The worst-case scenario is the state creates an incredible bureaucracy to issue this 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.
On Monday, Nagin 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 that the city go slow in rebuilding low-lying areas.