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New Orleans Returnees Face Health Hazards, Outages


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.



And I'm Melissa Block.

In New Orleans today, business owners were invited back into much of the city. They could `look and leave,' as Mayor Ray Nagin put it, or stay and begin cleaning up if they felt it was safe. At the same time, those returning were told, `You are entering at your own risk,' and they were warned about a long list of health hazards. NPR's Ina Jaffe spent the day speaking with some of those trying to get back to business.

INA JAFFE reporting:

The sign on the house at the corner of Rampart and Esplanade(ph) said `Grand Opening,' though it looked like a bunch of people hanging out on the front porch.

Mr. MIKE WILKINSON (Co-owner, French Quarter Realty): We used the word `grand' loosely, but we think it's grand that we're reopening at all right now. So we're happy.


JAFFE: Mike Wilkinson is one of the owners of French Quarter Realty. The French Quarter weathered the recent storms in relatively good shape. He and his partner, Richard Jeansonne, have cleaned out their office and thrown out the stinky refrigerator. They've been in town for a while; they didn't wait to be invited back. There's no power yet, but there is, they say, a need for what they do if New Orleans is going to start being a city again.

Mr. WILKINSON: There's a great need right now to place people into properties, mostly rentals, temporary housing. Everything I hear, the businesses are ready to open, but they don't have housing for their people.

JAFFE: But some health officials think this is jumping the gun. Dr. Fred Cerise, the secretary for the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said without clean drinking water and proper sewage treatment, people who re-enter the city may be exposed to diseases such as E. coli or salmonella. At Turo Infirmary, one of the hospitals that's open, Dr. Kevin Jordan, the director of medical affairs, urged patients...

Dr. KEVIN JORDAN (Director of Medical Affairs, Turo Infirmary): Go to where you're comfortable. Being here and trying to utilize resources that aren't there, potentially getting ill, potentially being injured, those are things that will draw the life's blood out of the body of New Orleans that is--I read one thing--it's flat on its back right now.

JAFFE: Maybe some folks agreed. Driving around the city, most businesses still look closed and unattended.

I'm on Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood. It's the business street. This is the day that business owners can come back and look and see what happened to their businesses, maybe start cleaning them up. And there's virtually no one here.

But one block down, there was Hank Staples.

Mr. HANK STAPLES (Owner, Maple Leaf Bar): I own the Maple Leaf Bar, the world-famous musical icon of New Orleans.

JAFFE: It's a two-story yellow house that looks not too much worse for hurricane wear. Like the guys at French Quarter Realty, Hank Staples came back before anyone asked him. And while Oak Street is quiet right now, he doesn't think it'll be that way for long.

Mr. STAPLES: The minute a lot of these people get power--Boom!--they're just, you know--there's a lot of people raring to go.

JAFFE: And Oak Street doesn't stay quiet long when Hank Staples is around. A steady stream of friends drive by, like Kristi McClendon(ph)...

Ms. KRISTI McCLENDON: We are dying to have a neighborhood bar open up. It's about time.

JAFFE: ...and beer distributor Jim Brooks.

Mr. STAPLES: Running, huh?

Mr. JEFF BROOKS: Good to see you. Good to see you. Absolutely. I know I...

Mr. STAPLES: Well, tomorrow we're open. With or without power, we'll be open.

Mr. BROOKS: Solid, man!

Mr. STAPLES: So...

Mr. BROOKS: Who's playing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STAPLES: Oh, Walter is flying in.


Mr. STAPLES: Yeah, Wolfman. So it's Walter, not with his regular band. He'll have--well, Kevin...

JAFFE: Tomorrow, residents of certain neighborhoods will also be allowed back in the city to look and leave or to stay if they think it's safe. A lot of residents have already made the decision that this is a city worth taking some risks to be in. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.