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Signs of Renewal Seen in New Orleans


New Orleans is slowly recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The main airport is resuming some commercial flights, hospitals are back in operation, and sewage plants have restarted. But as VOA's Deborah Block reports, the cleanup of the city has a long way to go.

Less than half of New Orleans is still under water, but 80 percent of the city is damaged.

The water goes down each day, drained by pumps into the huge Lake Ponchartrain.

But the water is filthy -- full of sewage, gasoline, and garbage. In some neighborhoods, the flood's watermarks can be seen on the houses. But in other areas, homes and businesses still sit in meters of stagnant, polluted water.

Captain Robert Atkinson is with the National Guard of California -- the state militia. He is with a unit that is helping bring New Orleans back to life.

"The waterline here has dropped substantially in the last few days that we've been here. It has dropped, after we got most of the pumps going, anywhere from 48 inches (1.2 meters) to 64 inches (1.6 meters) per day."

It is hard to estimate how long the cleanup will take. Concrete lifted from roads and debris is everywhere. Powerful winds from the hurricane blew boats out of the water into a pile that looks like a massive traffic accident. At a small airport, a truck was thrown into a plane, which crashed into a car.

One major highway is usually full of traffic. Now only emergency, police and military vehicles travel down the road.

Dorin Bodor, from Romania, is a researcher at the University of Louisiana. He says it is hard to believe New Orleans was the vibrant city he once knew. "The most striking thing is that the city is completely deserted except for the police and the military, which seem to be everywhere."

Although most people have left, a few are determined to stay, including Bob Rue. He says his rug business did not get flooded because it was above sea level and not near a levee, the raised barriers along canals and waterways that were meant to keep the rest of the city dry.

"People who do come back need to build their houses up in the air,” said Bob. “They can't build below sea level anymore just because there's a levee."

But a sign of hope came to New Orleans as the first container ship since the hurricane arrived at the port to deliver goods.

Port official Gary LaGrange told us, "It has proven that we can open a terminal, which the experts said, two weeks ago, could not be open for six months.

He says despite the devastation in New Orleans, the shipment shows the city can become the economic center of the Gulf Coast again.