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Feds, locals out of sync on repopulation

Monday meeting set with mayor

Programming note: Watch CNN TV all weekend to help identify and reunite children displaced by Hurricane Katrina with their families.

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Vice Adm. Thad Allen says there are significant public safety issues in New Orleans.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- More New Orleanians are expected to return to their city Monday despite local and federal officials being at odds about when and how evacuees should come home.

Mayor Ray Nagin announced that business owners could enter the city during the weekend, and homeowners could start trickling in on Monday.

But Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the federal official leading Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, said Sunday that he has serious concerns about Nagin's staggered, repopulation plans.

"I don't think anybody disagrees on the vision," Allen said, "It's how fast we get there and whether or not we create the elements for a successful re-population of the city."

Consider the "welcome home" message the city issued.

Its first point is to enter "at your own risk," then it informs readers of the absence of traffic lights, a 911 emergency system and medical services. ( Watch the video of Allen's case for caution -- 9:46)

What the city does have is contaminated standing water and soil, downed power lines and limited automobile fuel.

And there's no food and limited amounts of clean water. But toilet flushing is allowed.

Allen said he plans to meet with Nagin on Monday and tell him to not rush re-entry.

Sunday, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said the death toll in Louisiana from the Category 4 hurricane was 646.

Flood risk remains

In addition to amenities and supplies being inadequate, the levee system protecting the city is compromised.

The earthen barriers suffered "extensive damage" from Hurricane Katrina and may not protect the city from another storm this season, a top Army Corps of Engineers official warned Sunday.

"Until we can upgrade the hurricane protection system, residents who return to previously flooded areas will be at some risk," said Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, commander of the corps' Task Force Hope.

"The system in its present condition does not ensure that the city will be protected against storms or hurricanes," he said in a statement Sunday.

"The state of the levee system requires an urgent plan of action to provide an interim level of safety for the duration of this hurricane season," Crear said. "Our intent is to make these repairs as quickly as possible."

He said the corps' top priority is to return the levee system by June 2006 to its state before it was swamped by Hurricane Katrina "and then to determine what longer term course of action is needed."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing the corps with money to repair the levees "to an interim level of protection" this year, according to the statement.

Business owners come back

In spite of those risks, Nagin said Thursday that he looked forward to business owners coming back to assess damage and begin the rebuilding process in hopes that parts of the city could open by the end of the month.

"I met with the mayor after he made those statements, and indicated that we had some concerns on the part of the federal government," Allen said.

A federal official involved in behind-the-scenes discussions on recovery efforts said Saturday that federal and some state officials were "caught a bit off guard by how forward leaning" Nagin was.

The official insisted on anonymity because the discussions go beyond information that was being released publicly.

Some business owners have been confused by the mixed signals from the authorities. (Watch business owners who vow to rebuild -- 2:38)

Senators call for spending cuts

Two prominent Republican senators called for spending cuts in the federal budget to help pay for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, while a top Democrat said tax cuts might need to be rolled back.

"We're failing when it comes to controlling spending," Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, told "Fox News Sunday."

Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, said the government should eliminate tax cuts. (Full story)

"There's a $70 billion tax cut in this particular budget," he said. "Permanently eliminating the estate tax cut is a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Maybe we have to forego those for the time being."

CNN's Mike M. Ahlers and Sean Callebs contributed to this report.

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