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New Orleans Mayor Urges City Residents to Return

The mayor of New Orleans, a city that was devastated four months ago by Hurricane Katrina, says his wishes for the new year include rebuilding the city's protective levees and constructing enough housing, so residents can return.

The current population of New Orleans is just a fraction of the 480,000 people who lived there before Hurricane Katrina.

"Right now, it is probably at about 100,000 [people]," said city's mayor, Ray Nagin, who spoke on the CBS television program Face the Nation. He said he is optimistic this number will double after city authorities re-open, what he described as, a "significant" number of public and private schools.

"Everyday, we start to see more people coming back, but the real challenge is housing, temporary and long-term housing, but we have enough of a footprint to accommodate about 200 to 250,000 people right now," he added.

Mayor Nagin said besides providing adequate housing for New Orleans' residents, another priority for him is ensuring the city is protected from the next hurricane.

"My wish list for 2006 is for, number one, that we rebuild the levees and hurricane protection systems, where, if another Katrina hit us, that we would be protected," noted Mayor Nagin. "And that is what has been authorized and that is what is being proposed by the president." Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina breached New Orleans' levees, devastating much of the city.

Mayor Nagin says New Orleans authorities have been lobbying the federal government and Congress for help, which he says could be quicker. He added, though, that he has seen what he described as "encouraging signs" in recent weeks, including President Bush's asking Congress for another $1.5 billion to help rebuild the levee system around the city - bringing the President's request for aid to the region, to more than $3 billion.