Mayor: Parts of New Orleans to reopen
Officials report city draining faster than predicted
Programming note: Former President Bill Clinton talks to Larry King about Katrina relief efforts and his global initiative, Friday, 9 p.m., ET.
Rescuers approach a dog stranded at the top of a flight of stairs Thursday in the New Orleans area.
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Mayor Ray Nagin said Thursday that significant areas of New Orleans will begin to reopen this weekend, almost three weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast on August 29.
The announcement was part of Nagin's plan to allow some 182,000 residents to return to their homes and businesses after they fled what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called "the most destructive hurricane to ever strike the U.S."
NOAA spokesman Greg Hernandez said Thursday the determination was based on various criteria, including damage.
Nagin said New Orleans will soon take major strides in overcoming the damage.
"The city of New Orleans, starting on Monday, starting this weekend, will start to breathe again," the mayor said a during a press conference. (Watch the mayor's account of what went wrong after Katrina - 1:55)
"We will have life. We will have commerce. We have people getting back into their normal modes of operation and the normal rhythm of the city of New Orleans that is so unique."
By September 26, the city's historic French Quarter will be open for business, the mayor said.
"The French Quarter is high and dry, and we feel it has good electricity capability," he said.
Authorities said they are being careful about restoring electricity because of the potential of fire in the tightly packed quarter.
"If fire breaks out, we could lose a significant amount of what we cherish in the city," Nagin said.
During the weekend, business owners will be allowed into certain areas in the central business district, Algiers and Uptown.
During the next week, residents in those areas will be allowed to return.
Residents will have to abide by a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and the military will provide a security perimeter around the areas.
Nagin also said residents should not bathe in or drink tap water on the city's east bank because of contamination.
Who's going home?
Nagin said the following ZIP codes will be reopened: 70131, 70114, 70118, 70115, 70130, 70113, 70112 and 70116. Those mailing zones include Algiers, the central business district and Uptown.
Algiers, the only part of New Orleans that lies across the Mississippi River on the west bank, is principally a residential area. Its tip, lodged in the elbow of the river's crescent, hosts the ferry landing and row after row of sherbet-colored wooden houses.
The central business district includes Canal Street, the Louisiana Superdome, Amtrak station and nearly all of the city's skyscrapers. One of its borders abuts the French Quarter.
Uptown, the scene of novelist Anne Rice's vampire epics, boasts palatial mansions with leaded beveled glass doors, wraparound porches and gazebos where the elite English settled upriver from the quarters of the French.
Tulane and Loyola universities are among the institutions in the section of oak-lined boulevards and the famed streetcar route along St. Charles Avenue.
News of the reopenings came 17 days after Katrina hit the region, flooding New Orleans, killing hundreds of people and forcing more than 1 million more to evacuate.
President Bush is expected to announce a federal aid package during a prime-time television speech from the region Thursday night. (Full story).
Faster pump repairs and a lack of rain is allowing New Orleans and surrounding municipalities to drain quicker, the Army Corps of Engineers reported Thursday.
The agency said the ground will resurface by October 18, but there may be some ponds of water in low-lying parts of the metropolitan area and adjacent parishes.
Drained areas won't be immediately livable, officials said.
"We continue to make better progress than we anticipated," said Dan Hitchings, regional business director for the Mississippi Valley Division of the corps.
Initial corps estimates projected would take 24 to 80 days to drain they city and outlying flooded parishes. The new estimates have it dried out by seven weeks after the storm.
Engineers have been successful in bringing 23 of the city's 174 permanent pumps online, Hitchings said, and more than 40 temporary pumps are working to flush the city.
Hitchings said the corps hopes to return area levees to pre-Katrina condition by next June, the start of the 2006 hurricane season.
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