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Business Owners in New Orleans Struggle to Reopen

New Orleans is now closed, as the city braces for the possibility of Hurricane Rita. Only relief workers, police, and military are allowed into the city. The mayor had to suspend plans to re-open parts of the city because of the threat of new flooding, if Hurricane Rita reaches the Gulf Coast.

Before the city’s closure, some business people were allowed back into the badly damaged city. VOA's Deborah Block spoke with two restaurant owners who were glad to find their buildings intact.

Orleans Parish, in the same district as the historic French Quarter, was not affected by flooding. But like everywhere else in the area, it was hit hard by wind and rain from Hurricane Katrina.

Sean Francione, owner of a bar and restaurant, is relieved to see his building in good shape. "We're waiting on the word as to whether we can run the water, and clean with the water, and serve the water, and as soon as that happens we feel like we can open up," he told us.

Henry Wong wasn't as lucky. The inside of his Italian restaurant is damaged and he expects it will be some time before he can serve customers again. But he is glad his restaurant is still standing because another building next to it is in pieces.

A native of Taiwan, he has lived in New Orleans for four years. "We need to clean everything," he said of his restaurant. There is still no electricity and phone service to many homes and businesses.

Mike Riccadelli is with an electrical firm from Connecticut that is going around this neighborhood trying to restore the electricity as quickly as possible. "They don't want wires on the ground with kids around or people trying to clean stuff up,” Mike said. “We don't want anybody getting hurt, you know."

Sean Francione brought in a generator to get electricity into his restaurant. Now he is cleaning up and getting rid of rotted meat. He is optimistic he will be up and running in a couple of weeks.

"The first thing that we're trying to do is getting open so we can help the people who are helping us -- from the telephone people, from the cable people, electricity, soldiers, anybody who is working in the area,” said Mike. “We want to be a place where they can come and relax and enjoy themselves during any time off they might have."

Business owners are only gradually returning to the city. Many blocks of stores and restaurants are still deserted.