Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Drink Da' Wata'

You can now drink the water in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Tap water is now safe to drink in the northern section of the Lower 9th Ward where thousands of homes have been without potable water for more than a year.

Sewerage & Water Board officials announced Monday that the basic public service has been restored to more than 4,000 customers in what had been the sole remaining section of New Orleans without drinkable water.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals has certified the water as safe for everyday use, Marcia St. Martin, executive director of the S&WB, said at a news conference.

The affected area, hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters, is bordered by the Industrial Canal, the St. Bernard Parish line, North Derbigny Street and Florida Avenue, St. Martin said. It also includes the sewage-treatment plant at 6501 Florida Ave., she said.

"That area's now open for development and repopulation," said City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who has pleaded with water board officials and Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to speed up infrastructure repairs.

St. Martin said the S&WB needed more than a year to return water to all of New Orleans because of the "unprecedented amount of damage." Workers couldn't begin repairs on a "major trunk line on Florida Avenue until a barge was removed," she said.

There were buses on top of houses, and houses on top of houses, said Willard-Lewis, who noted that a portion of the Lower 9th Ward was damaged by Hurricane Rita as well.

"I think it's great, but I'm not sure I trust it," said George McCullum, who lived for nearly 50 years in the area.

"I'm driving over to New Orleans tomorrow (Tuesday) to cut the grass," said McCullum, referring to his flood-damaged property, "but I'll probably bring my own water."

McCullum and his wife were displaced to Dallas and have since moved to Bay St. Louis, Miss.

"I still haven't gotten back into my home," McCullum said. "I'm still waiting to see what's going to happen to my neighborhood."

Now if only the Corps of Engineers can keep out the non-potable water.

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