New Orleans sets anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as home-gutting deadline

Monday, August 28th 2006, 9:58 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Members of Congress toured the city Monday and President Bush was headed for the region to see the state of recovery efforts one year after the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The visits come as the city set Tuesday _ Katrina's first anniversary _ as the deadline for homeowners to gut or otherwise clean up properties damaged by the storm.

Fifteen Democratic members of Congress gathered in the French Quarter during the morning for a bus tours of stricken areas. They planned to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast later in the day.

The Democrats' trip was led by Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans, who said the recovery is slow because of the complexity of the issues involved and concerns that many evacuees have about returning.

``We've got a lot of work to do. We have to have a visit and stay committed to it,'' Jefferson said.

The president was to visit Mississippi on Monday, then come to New Orleans for events on Tuesday marking the anniversary, his 13th visit to the Gulf Coast since Katrina.

On Sunday, NAACP President and CEO Bruce S. Gordon led a walking tour of the Lower Ninth Ward to a neighborhood memorial Sunday. Gordon said he believes government, on all levels, continues to fail residents in that still devastated neighborhood.

``None of us should feel good about where we stand now,'' Gordon said during dedication of a monument to the neighborhood's storm victims.

City officials hope to accelerate the cleanup with the Tuesday deadline for homeowners. People who don't comply with it after being put on notice face a range of possible penalties, from liens being placed on their property to the seizure or destruction of homes.

Some residents hope the deadline will spur a cleanup that will lead to more redevelopment and repopulation after the exodus that followed Katrina.

``To see a home cleaned up, even if it's not occupied, does a lot psychologically,'' said Bari Landry. She sees signs of life in the flooded Lakeview neighborhood, but also signs of disaster: deserted houses, windows and doors standing wide open, and roof-high weeds.

In the badly flooded Mid City neighborhood, the congregation of First United Baptist Church still holds services under a tent outside their battered building.

``We have a lot of work in this neighborhood,'' the Rev. Marshall Truehill Jr. told congregants on Sunday. He challenged them to go door to door to find people in need of help, including anyone who would need a ride out of town if another hurricane hits New Orleans.

The Lower Ninth Ward is exempt from the gutting deadline, although residents will be expected to take care of their damaged houses by an unspecified date.

Others may be exempt, too, if they have an ``acceptable'' excuse, such as being on the list for a gutting service that hasn't gotten around to their property yet.

Enforcement could begin any time after Tuesday.