New Orleans airport to reopen - small step towards recovery

New Orleans' airport was to reopen for commercial flights, which is a significant step towards recovery for the still-largely flooded city.

Two weeks after Katrina turned the city into a festering swamp, the gruesome job of recovering bloated bodies continued to yield its grisly harvest, with the confirmed number of dead passing 500 and set to rise far higher.

On the ground, more pumps came online as an army of recovery crews toiled around the clock to bring life back to New Orleans.

Those who had held out in the city were upbeat.

Passes to cross a security cordon around the city were to be issued to help small businesses hoping to reopen.

Owners of small shops, restaurants, hotels, gasoline stations and supermarkets were to be allowed to visit their properties to assess damage, said Louisiana state police.

The city's Louis Armstrong International Airport, which has handled only humanitarian and military flights since Katrina struck, was gearing up to resume commercial flights.

In a further positive sign, the number of evacuees forced to seek refuge in shelters was also down significantly, the Department of Homeland Security said, with the number of people displaced by Katrina now 141,000, down from 208,000.

But the city's infrastructure is wrecked, and reconstruction will take many years and cost billions of dollars. Officials have warned it will be months before drinking water is restored.

In the meantime George Bush has refused to identify any specific failures in Washington's response to Katrina but flatly dismissed critics who have noted that most of those unable to flee the city were black, the AFP reports.

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