Officials have abruptly halted plans to allow residents and businesses to return to parts of New Orleans devastated last month by Hurricane Katrina. There is concern a new hurricane could threaten Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
After announcing last week an ambitious schedule to allow one-third of the city's residents and businesses to return to New Orleans this week, Mayor Ray Nagin put those plans on hold Monday. He urged people to leave because of the possibility that another hurricane could strike the area this week.
"We are suspending all re-entry into the city of New Orleans as of this moment. I am also asking everyone in Algiers to prepare to evacuate as early as Wednesday. I am also asking anyone who is on the East Bank of Orleans Parish to also start to prepare yourself to evacuate on Wednesday or even earlier," he said.
Mr. Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of some parts of New Orleans. He said the pumps that remove water from New Orleans are not able to work at full capacity, and another 20 centimeters of rain or a one-meter storm surge could create significant, new flooding.
Federal government officials had urged the mayor to change his plans, which would have reopened the city's historic French Quarter next week. President Bush noted that the city lacks drinking water and is still contaminated from floodwaters.
"We want to work with the mayor. The mayor is working hard. The mayor has got this dream about having a city up and running and we share that dream," he said. "But we also want to be realistic about some of the hurdles and obstacles that we all confront in repopulating New Orleans."
As New Orleans worked to recover from Katrina, about 200,000 people in southern Florida were ordered or encouraged to evacuate because of a storm named Rita. As Florida was being threatened by what could be the seventh hurricane to strike the state in the past 13 months, Governor Jeb Bush said he worried residents have become complacent about the risk.
"These storms can gain power very, very quickly and people are forewarned," he said. "This is serious, serious business and they need to make sure that they have their personal and family disaster plans in place, that they have enough food and water to take care of themselves and their families for 72 hours after the storm hits."
Hurricane Katrina dumped almost 40 centimeters of rain in South Florida before it strengthened and struck Louisiana,
Mississippi and other coastal sections of the Gulf of Mexico last month. The National Hurricane Center says Rita will also probably become a major hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico.