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Rita sets back New Orleans' efforts to recover from Katrina

NEW ORLEANS—With the threat of widespread flooding subsiding Saturday in New Orleans, relief mixed with new frustrations.

Much of the levee system that had failed during Katrina—and again Friday as Rita approached—appeared to have held fast. But Rita flooded enough of the city that hard-fought progress was erased. Timelines for some key components of recovery, including providing water clean enough to drink, suffered setbacks.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mitch Frazier said flooding had ceased along the downtown, or west side, of the Industrial Canal that was overtopped Friday by surging Lake Pontchartrain.

The flooding left the city's Lower Ninth Ward and some adjoining areas under water for the second time in a month. That water was slowly receding Saturday as the Army Corps of Engineers began a new round of emergency levee repair.

Workers packed 2,000 sandbags—weighing as much as 7,000 pounds apiece—that were airlifted into place to bolster the height of weakened sections of levees. Large rocks were trucked in to repair the Industrial Canal.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said rainwater that flooded some neighborhoods couldn't be pumped out immediately because of steps taken to block two canals where Katrina breached levees.

Even after Rita passed, city officials were closely monitoring the levee system. After Katrina, it initially appeared that the levees had held, but several failed in the hours after the storm. Nagin said Saturday afternoon that the levees are "not as strong as we would like them to be, but they seem to be holding up."

Parts of the East Bank, bordered by miles of marshland on one side and the Mississippi River on the other, flooded as well after a hastily reconstructed levee broke.

"All of our roads are gone," said Jason Bazile, one of the few people still living on the East Bank, parts of which now are navigable only by boat. "I stayed up last night, and the water was just coming, coming, coming."

(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)

As the Rita cleanup began in New Orleans, Nagin wasted no time in renewing his call to repopulate his city. He said that residents would be allowed back into the relatively untouched Algiers area Monday or Tuesday if all goes well.

Nagin found an apt metaphor for the double whammy his city has taken.

"Katrina was the wash cycle. Rita seems to be the rinse cycle. I'm hoping to get an opportunity to hang on the line and dry and not go through the spin cycle," he said.

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(Estwick of the Akron Beacon Journal and Nesmith of the Miami Herald reported from New Orleans. Dwight Ott of The Philadelphia Enquirer contributed from New Orleans, and Alex Friedrich of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed from Baton Rouge.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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