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New Orleans Mayor Urges Federal Government to Speed Rebuilding City

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is urging federal authorities to work quickly to help rebuild the city, which was devastated three-months ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, President Bush went there, and made a nationally-televised pledge to, in his words, "do whatever it takes" to rebuild the city.

Speaking Sunday on the ABC television program "This Week," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he believes that promise was sincere at the time. But now, three months later, he says, he sees little follow-through.

"I think he (Bush) made the commitment, and I think he meant the commitment then. I think he is in a really bad spot right now with Congressm," Mr. Nagin says. "Congress seems to be going in a different direction."

Mayor Nagin said the most urgent task for federal authorities is rebuilding the damaged levee system that protected New Orleans from most flooding, until Hurricane Katrina. He said it is important to repair the levees before the start of the next hurricane season, which begins June first.

Another challenge is persuading the hundreds-of-thousands of New Orleans residents who fled the city to return. Mayor Nagin has traveled to several other cities to hold town hall style meetings with his evacuated constituents. He says most of them want to go back to their homes, but are frustrated because they cannot put their lives on hold, waiting for New Orleans' infrastructure to be restored.

"There are a certain number of people that will not come back," Mr. Nagin says. "You cannot have poor people get one-way tickets out, and be spread out among 44 different states, some of our residents, and expect them to get back easily."

When asked about complaints from some Americans about why tax-payer money should be used to rebuild New Orleans, Mayor Nagin countered with questions about U.S. government money going to help people in other countries.

"Why should we be paying to rebuild Iraq? Why should we have rebuilt Japan? Are you telling me that it is more acceptable for Americans to spend money on foreign soil, for foreign citizens, than to spend money on New Orleans, which is an American city? I do not get that, and it blows me away (astounds me), every time I hear that," Mr. Nagin says.

Since New Orleans is in the midst of recovering from Katrina's devastation, Louisiana State Governor Kathleen Blanco postponed elections for the city's mayor and city council. She said the polls, originally scheduled for February fourth, now should be held by September 30th.

New Orleans will have extra time to track down and communicate with voters scattered around the country. Officials say the city also will need to bring in temporary voting buildings and hire dozens of new election workers.

Meantime, authorities are warning of the emergence of a major health crisis brought on by, among other things, harmful chemicals released by buildings that burned and mold left behind when stagnant floodwaters receded.