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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 September 2005, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Businesses return to New Orleans
Fixing a sign at the Pat O'Brien's French Quarter bar
Some business owners are already trickling back
People who own businesses in New Orleans are beginning to return to the deserted and flood-battered city.

They have been invited by Mayor Ray Nagin to help get the city back on its feet, nearly three weeks after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Up to 200,000 people could be allowed back in the next 10 days.

But the official in charge of recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast, Vice Adm Thad Allen, called on residents to consider delaying their return.

"There are continued concerns that the damaged electricity, water, sewage and safety systems are not restored to a level that can meet the basic needs of the businesses and residents who return," he said.

The sooner we get this open, the sooner we will get back to normal life
Gallery owner R R Lyon

"I urge all residents returning to use extreme caution if they return and to consider delaying their return until safer and more livable conditions are established."

The BBC's Claire Marshall in the city says returning residents will find it a changed place, with military checkpoints, and food and water supply problems.

Large areas remain uninhabitable and bodies are still being recovered.

No sewage system

In the historic French Quarter, which escaped the worst of the flooding, a handful of restaurant, bar and shop owners have begun pulling down plywood used to board up their windows, AFP news agency reports.

KATRINA INITIATIVES
Gulf opportunity zone Immediate incentives for job-creating investment
Recovery accounts Up to $5,000 help for job-seekers, for training, childcare etc
Urban homesteading act Federal-owned land handed out in a lottery for new homebuilding
"We decided that if we are one of the first owners to open, then it would inspire others to do the same," gallery owner R R Lyon told the agency.

"The sooner we get this open, the sooner we will get back to normal life."

Armed police and troops are continuing to patrol the streets in an effort to maintain security and prevent looting. A night time curfew remains in force.

'Wipe out poverty'

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush said the federal government would assume the bulk of the costs for "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen".

How has Hurricane Katrina hit President Bush's poll ratings?

Congress already approved $62bn for the recovery effort along the Gulf Coast, but that is expected to run out next month.

On Friday Mr Bush indicated that the recovery programme, which White House officials say could cost up to $200bn (110bn), might be partially funded by spending cuts in other areas.

He has ruled out raising taxes.

The president's approval ratings have slumped to 40%, the lowest of his time in office.

The US military announced on Friday it was withdrawing around 4,500 of the federal troops deployed in the region, two-thirds of the total.

Ten thousand National Guard troops also left at the beginning of the week, spokesman Bryan Whitman said, adding that total military strength in the region was now 61,000.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See how the floodwaters have damaged New Orleans



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