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French Quarter to reopen, New Orleans mayor says

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a big step toward restoring the pulse and soul of New Orleans, the mayor announced plans Thursday to reopen over the next week and a half some of the Big Easy's most vibrant neighborhoods, including the once-rollicking French Quarter.

The move could bring back more than 180,000 of the city's original half-million residents and speed the revival of its economy.

"The city of New Orleans . . . will start to breathe again," a beaming Mayor Ray Nagin said. "We will have life. We will have commerce. We will have people getting into their normal modes of operations and the normal rhythm of the city."

Now, the designated neighborhoods have 70 percent to 90 percent of their electricity restored, and have water that will be good for flushing and firefighting, if not drinking. The sewer system works, trash removal is running, and at least two hospitals will be able to provide emergency care, authorities said.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it is getting water pumped out of eastern New Orleans and nearby parishes faster than expected, and most of the area should be dry by the end of this month.

Across five Gulf Coast states, the death toll from Katrina climbed Thursday to 794, led by 558 in Louisiana.