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New Orleans mayor gets an earful

Residents complain of response three months after Katrina

New Orleans residents line up to address Mayor Ray Nagin.


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Entergy Corporation

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Frustrated New Orleans residents appeared before Mayor Ray Nagin Tuesday with complaints about the response to Hurricane Katrina, with two speakers asking why a nation fighting to stabilize Iraq can't resolve a crisis at home.

One woman suggested that New Orleans residents board buses and travel to Washington to complain to Congress, which has approved billions of dollars for relief efforts.

"If they can destroy a country and build it up again, why can't they fix this state?" the woman asked. (Watch residents' anger as they are told there are no easy answers -- 2:19)

A man added, "It's a hard thing to believe that the United States of America is spending nearly one billion [dollars] per week in Iraq, and here, in New Orleans, the United States, we're being neglected."

"Why do we have to beg and plead with our president, our congressmen, our elected leaders to tell them that we need help, when it's on the media every day?"

Of more than a dozen speakers at a town hall meeting called by Nagin three months after Katrina, several sharply criticized the pace of restoring natural gas by Entergy New Orleans.

"I am in the cold," said a woman who identified herself as the owner of a bed and breakfast. "I can't cook. I can't do business. I can't take advantage of all the business people who are coming here."

Power company seeks protection

Pat Ricks, Entergy's customer service manager, told the residents that water from the August 29 storm that flooded most of New Orleans entered the gas lines, which he described as a "spider web."

Ricks said the effort to drain the water was like "sucking water out of a bathtub with a straw."

Entergy crews have removed 923,500 gallons of water from the gas pipelines in the city, according to the utility's Web site.

Ricks agreed to meet with the woman privately and give her an estimate of when she can expect service to resume.

Before Katrina, Entergy New Orleans had 190,000 electrical power customers and 145,000 gas customers. The company filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after the hurricane hit.

Power is now available to 115,000 of those customers and gas is available to 76,000, the utility said on its Web site.

"While Entergy crews continue to make repairs to its heavily damaged substations and distribution infrastructure in the hardest-hit areas of the city, the company does not anticipate that it will restore large numbers of customers at the same pace as it has since Katrina made landfall," the Web site says.

Residents also complained about a lack of debris and trash removal, inadequate or no response from police to calls, and price gouging by some landlords.

One woman, angry at Nagin for what she said was the city's inadequate hurricane response, said she is being evicted from her home even though she has been paying her rent. Her rent check was refused for November.

"As far as rent gouging, we're getting more and more complaints of that," Nagin said.

New Orleans vs. Iraq

Katrina killed 1,086 people in Louisiana, and more than $62 billion has been set aside by the federal government for relief efforts there and in other states.

By comparison, the Pentagon has said a year in Iraq costs $69 billion, based on a monthly average of $5.8 billion.

White House budget chief Josh Bolten has said "substantially more" money will be needed to help hurricane-ravaged communities rebuild.

Nagin addressed security concerns at Tuesday's meeting in a New Orleans hotel.

He said there are 1,500 police officers and 2,500 National Guard members patrolling parts of New Orleans. The Guard is committed to staying until police are fully able to step in, Nagin said.

Nagin said the city's 2 a.m. curfew will remain in place.

"There are still way too many areas in the city that are dark at night," the mayor said.

"I'm still not totally convinced our police force is at the level of stabilization to handle" around-the-clock security, he said.

On Monday, Warren J. Riley -- the man Nagin named acting police superintendent after his predecessor stepped aside in the wake of Katrina -- was sworn in as the city's full-time chief. (Watch the new man in charge -- 2:31)

After Eddie Compass stepped down, Riley moved swiftly to take control of the force, announcing an investigation of 12 officers accused of taking part in looting and suspending three officers seen on video beating an unarmed black man.

In addition, Riley fired 45 police officers and six civilians, accusing them of abandoning their posts either before or after Katrina flooded most of the city. More than 200 other officers remain under investigation.

The mayor is scheduled to host a second town hall meeting on Wednesday in Memphis, Tennessee, for displaced residents.

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