New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's plan to officially reopen parts of the city drew criticism from federal officials and health care experts who warn that city services might not be able to handle the influx of people.
Nagin said residents may return Monday to Algiers, a section of the city across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans that saw little damage from Hurricane Katrina. Over the next week and a half, Uptown, the Garden District and the French Quarter, the city's historic heart, are also due to open to residents and businesses.
All are sections that didn't flood, but Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, head of the federal government's hurricane response, has urged Nagin not to rush people back into areas where basic services, such as drinkable water, telephone and 911, are still not in place, reports Washington Post.
Allen also expressed concerns that another storm, even something considerably smaller than Katrina, could cause the patchwork repairs to New Orleans' levees to fail and bring another round of flooding. On Sunday, a new tropical storm called Rita formed southeast of the Florida Keys and appeared to be headed for the Gulf of Mexico, although forecasters did not expect it to hit the battered Gulf Coast.
Allen and Nagin two planned to meet Monday to discuss the concerns.
The vice president of the national hospital accreditation organization also cautioned against reopening parts of the city, saying several hospitals probably were damaged beyond repair, while others may try to rush back into business before conditions are safe.
Others, while rebuilding, may lose doctors and nurses to communities elsewhere.
"Essentially the health care infrastructure of New Orleans is gone it no longer exists," said Joe Cappiello, who had just completed a three-day mission to the city for the Illinois-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
Although the city has more than a dozen hospitals, none has resumed normal operations. Officials at Children's Hospital, which Nagin had hoped would be ready in time for the planned return of residents to the Uptown neighborhood, said they may need 10 more days to prepare, informs the AP.