New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, eager to welcome back his city's residents, says he's fighting a national impression "that we're tainted, we're not ready."
His re-entry plan was to continue Thursday, with business owners returning to some of the historic New Orleans neighborhoods best known to tourists.
The French Quarter, the Central Business district and Uptown, which includes the historic Garden District, were to be formally reopened to residents a day later.
"People are saying it's too early to bring back jazz, the gumbo and the red beans," Nagin said Wednesday in Baton Rouge. "If it's too early, when is the right time?"
Nagin complained that state opposition to reopening the city was feeding a misperception about New Orleans, saying: "We're fighting this national impression that we're tainted, we're not ready."
The areas being repopulated largely escaped flooding after Hurricane Katrina struck one month ago and many people have returned ahead of the mayor's timeline.
Still, a handout from Nagin's office struck a cautious note.
"You are entering the city of New Orleans at your own risk," it reads, before going on to detail potential health hazards from water, soil and air, and advising residents to bring in food.
Electricity has been restored to some dry parts of the city, although the power company Entergy Corp. said only about 17 percent of the city has power.
The mayor has disagreed with the head of the state's health department about the condition of the city's water, insisting residents could now wash in it, though they cannot drink it.
"People who re-enter the city may be exposed to diseases such as E. coli, salmonella or diarrhea illness if they do not allow time for the necessary inspections to ensure public health and safety."
Louisiana's official death toll from hurricane Katrina rose to 896 on Wednesday, the AP reports.
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