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New Orleans residents return, but some won't stay

NEW ORLEANS—Residents returned Wednesday, many for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, to mold-covered homes and unanswered questions about how they'll rebuild their lives in a city broken financially and psychically.

Although people have been trickling back into New Orleans for a few weeks, Wednesday was the first day the city allowed people in all areas except one—the hard-hit Ninth Ward. The most common answer heard to questions about what will happen to them and their city was, "No one knows."

In New Orleans East, which lies across a canal from the main part of the city, Gina Dupre, 43, and her mother, Beverly Dupre, 67, donned rubber boots and gloves to see what Katrina had wrought at their home of 26 years. The stench of mold meant they could go inside only for a few minutes at a time. Mold covered the house so aggressively that the tile of their family-room ceiling appeared to be painted in camouflage.

"I'm devastated," Beverly Dupre said. "This house is going to be torn down." She and her daughter planned to retrieve family photos and return to friends in Lottie, La.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has urged residents to come back to help rebuild. But he's asking them to live in a city with minimal services. Most water still isn't safe to drink.

Some people believe they have no choice but to leave. Suzanne deBessonet, 32, said she'll move to Oklahoma in two weeks after she helps her parents clean their New Orleans home. She and her boyfriend worked at a veterinary clinic that Katrina destroyed. They since have found jobs in Edmond, Okla.

"It's prettier. It smells better. It's country, kind of green, and the money is better there," deBessonet said.

Activity at a Red Cross center in Carrollton, slow on Monday and Tuesday, picked up dramatically Wednesday, said Red Cross spokeswoman Linnea Anderson. When the center opened at 10 a.m., about 175 people were lined up.

Workers handed out snacks, cleaning supplies, diapers, baby formula and towels.

John Ward, who owns National Art and Hobby in Uptown, said people had been coming to buy items for their children. He's living in his nearby home, but says he won't bring his wife and children back to New Orleans until he believes it's safe.

Clark Theriot, who owns the vintage clothing store Pinky and Blue Boy, has reopened on Magazine Street, a fashionable shopping venue. But he wondered whether New Orleans could recapture the funky mix of people that made it great.

"No one has any clue," he said.

It was difficult to judge how many people came back Wednesday. Traffic on Interstate 10 slowed to a crawl into the city's neighborhoods. City police reported no major incidents. And people were easy to find in parts of the Garden District and Uptown, which weren't as hard hit and reopened to residents on Friday. But New Orleans East was largely deserted.

"We haven't seen anybody yet," Gina Dupre said.

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(Hill reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Crumbo reports for The (Columbia, S.C.) State.)

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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-STORMS-REDCROSS

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