Under pressure from President George W. Bush and other top federal officials, the mayor Monday suspended the reopening of large portions of the city over the next few days because of the risk of a new round of flooding from a tropical storm.
The decision came after repeated warnings from top federal officials -and the president himself - that the city was unsafe. The mayor reversed course even as residents began trickling back to the first neighbourhood opened as part of Nagin's plan, the scarcely damaged Algiers section.
Nagin had harsh words for the federal government's top official in the city, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who said "stepped outside his lane by talking directly to the citizens of New Orleans," according to Guardian Unlimited.
He said he had strategically selected zip codes that had suffered little or no flooding.
The mayor said he had wanted to reopen some of the city's signature neighbourhoods over the coming week in order to reassure the people of New Orleans that "there was a city to come back to."
But "now we have conditions that have changed. We have another hurricane that is approaching us," he said. He warned that the city's pumping system was not yet running at full capacity and that its levee system was still in a "very weak position."
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in a televised address Monday, urged residents of coastal southwest Louisiana to make preparations to leave.
Tropical storm Rita was headed toward the Florida Keys and was expected to become a hurricane, cross the Gulf of Mexico and reach Texas or Mexico by the weekend. But forecasters said it could also veer in Louisiana's direction.
The death toll in Louisiana spiked by 90 to 736 on Monday, as receding floodwaters allowed search and recovery crews to accelerate their probes into the city's decimated neighborhoods. The toll across the Gulf Coast was 973.