JEFFREY KAYE: Directly across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter the Algiers district is a community busily coming back to life. One month after Hurricane Katrina, residents are sweeping up and cleaning up. City workers are finally collecting garbage, and utility crews are fixing phone lines.
JEFFREY KAYE: Is this neighborhood ready to be opened up for people to come back and live?
LILY DUKE: You got to start somewhere. I mean, bring them home and let's get the business rolling; let's get, you know, people back to work, and let's clean up.
JEFFREY KAYE: Businesses are reopening their doors. On one street it's a restaurant. On another, barbers are once again cutting hair. Algiers, sitting atop high ground, escaped Hurricane Katrina's flooding. But ferocious winds damaged buildings and despite signs of normalcy, many homes and businesses remain shuttered.
The schools are also closed, a factor that might keep many people from returning, according to one resident.
RESIDENT: I think a lot of people that's not coming back are young adults that have children in school. So a lot of them have to stay where they are because they have already made arrangements for their children to be in school.
JEFFREY KAYE: Compared to the rest of the city, Algiers is in relatively good shape, which is why authorities made this the first New Orleans district to let residents move back. For many returning residents, the first stop is the local supermarket.
DEBRA MELANCON: The refrigerators are terrible, so we had to clean all that out. So you know when you throw everything away you have to replenish. So that's what's going on right here.
JEFFREY KAYE: Algiers is a city within a city, with a mix of distinct neighborhoods ranging from the more affluent and historic to the poorer and more dilapidated. More than half the residents are African-American, and some 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.
RESIDENT: Where the Red Cross at?
JEFFREY KAYE: Many Algiers residents are flocking to assistance centers, established by aid organizations and church groups. The Red Cross is providing food, cleaning supplies, even medical assistance.
KIRK WILSON, American Red Cross: We want them to be able to come back to Algiers -- not have to worry about a whole lot when they get back, except attack, you know, the problems that they face as they go to each of their homes or businesses.
JEFFREY KAYE: But many businesses in Algiers, as in other New Orleans communities, have been victimized twice, by Hurricane Katrina and by looters.
SPOKESMAN: Everything empty, looting everywhere --
JEFFREY KAYE: Lien Vu's convenience store was cleaned out by people who hauled off food and merchandise, but he says he holds no grudges.
JIM LEHRER: You would do the same thing you said?
LIEN VU: If you are hungry and you got kid, and your kid is hungry and you see the food in there. Hello, we do what we got to do for the kid. And if we are man enough, the next day you come down and say, "Hey, I took that. I pay for you, ok?
JEFFREY KAYE: Vu says it will be some time before he reopens. But it's been easier for Whitney Bank in historic Algiers point, a more affluent part of the community. It's the first New Orleans bank branch back in business since the hurricane hit. That's a point of pride for regional manager Jerry Tanner, who also sees opportunity in the wake of Katrina.
JERRY TANNER: The prospects are very good. This is probably going to be the nucleus of the rebuilding of the city, because this is where the high and dry ground is. This is where a lot of the activities are being staged for the rebuilding of New Orleans.
JEFFREY KAYE: It is impossible to overstate the challenge of rebuilding New Orleans: Neighborhood after neighborhood far outside Algiers remain ghost towns. But even before the floodwaters drowned entire communities, New Orleans faced a gumbo of economic and social challenges.
Community advocates hope that Katrina's aftermath will force the city to address long-standing problems. That's the view of school board member Una Anderson; she and Carolyn Williams, who both develop low-income housing.
UNA ANDERSON: I think what we have to understand is that we were a city in decline. We had a rising crime rate, we had a decreasing population; we had over 30 percent of our population living in poverty. We had 37,000 vacant, abandoned units. We have a responsibility to create a city that all of our citizens can come back to, a city that works for everybody.
CAROLYN WILLIAMS: Investors, as they come in it's the bottom line -- at the end of the day they want to make money --
JEFFREY KAYE: Right.
CAROLYN WILLIAMS: -- so they are not going to look at the low income -- the lower scale. They're looking to make money off of houses that they reinvest in. And they want to make money is the bottom line. So groups such as ours are going to have to continue to be on the forefront to fight for the little guys --
JEFFREY KAYE: You'll be the watchdog.
CAROLYN WILLIAMS: -- the watchdogs to make sure that affordable housing stays in the mindset of people. It doesn't make sense for New Orleans to come back and not have a diverse community.
JEFFREY KAYE: As New Orleans confronts a devastated cityscape, the conversation is starting about how to rebuild a city that retains its unique character, while addressing the inequities of the past.
JIM LEHRER: There was also new information today on the continuing search for, and identification of, those killed in New Orleans. It came from the state medical examiner, Dr. Louis Cataldie. Jeff Kaye attended the doctor's briefing today, and spoke about it a short while ago with Jeffrey Brown.
JEFFREY BROWN: Jeff, officials say more than 780 bodies have been recovered and 100 autopsies done, but only 32 identified and released to families so far. Why are they saying that number is so low?
JEFFREY KAYE: Well, just think about the scope of the problem. You've got hundreds and hundreds of bodies that are basically unrecognizable. The bodies have deteriorated to the point -- and this gets grim and fairly macabre, and I apologize for that, but it's reality; you can't even list fingerprints.
So how do you go about identifying the bodies? It's a real big detective task, and the coroner is saying that he doesn't want to release any bodies until he can be absolutely positive that he's made an identification. So you look for things like dental records. But how can you match dental records -- but how can you find the dental records if the dentist's office has been destroyed? You look for things like X-ray charts, but maybe those charts are nonexistent. So then you go beyond that.
They're looking for other clues, like serial numbers on prosthetics, serial numbers on pacemakers, anything that will give them the opportunity to match up the body with a name. One thing that they can do -- and it's a very -- it could be a very big help-- is DNA samples. But even DNA samples take a month to get the results back.
So it's a very long and tedious task, and the coroner said today he understands what families are going through. He says it's horrible, he'd like to work faster, but they're working as fast as they can.
JEFFREY BROWN: Was he willing to give any timeline -- days, weeks, months?
JEFFREY KAYE: Not really. We asked him what will happen if after a couple of months you can't identify the bodies and that there are bodies left unidentified, and he said after a couple of months, perhaps, they will start burying the bodies in a cemetery that they're establishing outside Baton Rouge. They'll set up a chapel there.
But he's really not speculating on how long it's going to take. They're still finding bodies. They found ten yesterday, and he expects to find a lot more in the areas that have been worse hit and just recently flooded again, such as the Ninth Ward, the lower Ninth Ward.
JEFFREY BROWN: Jeff, I understand this is a combined federal, state and local process. Tell us a little bit about how that works.
JEFFREY KAYE: Well, first of all, a federal agency, a federal operation working with the state coroner, a federal operation called the DMORT, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, is actually the one -- with about 180 people -- is actually the one that receives the bodies in a temporary morgue and does a preliminary investigation trying to get as much information as they can about the victims.
That information is then turned over to the state, and they try to match up the information that they're receiving with the information that the feds are giving them. And the information that they're receiving, much of that comes from families who are calling a center where people at the other end of the phone are taking down an eight-page questionnaire asking people about information that might be used to match the victim with a body. A last place of address, for example, might be useful if it's known where a body was found. It's very tedious; it's very long work trying to put all this stuff together.
And then once they have done that, and if a positive identification is made, the body is then released to the local county, or local parish as they call it here in Louisiana. A body is -- and then the parish notifies the family, which makes arrangements for the funeral home.
JEFFREY BROWN: And Jeff, finally, you said that officials said today that they expect to find some more bodies. Is anyone venturing to put a tally on that? You know we've heard some very large numbers very early on, and that's been revised down. What are they saying now?
JEFFREY KAYE: They're not putting any -- they're not speculating. They really have no idea. I think they're taking this one day at a time. The other thing, I think, a piece of important information, is the investigations that are going on and some of the suspicious deaths in nursing homes. And the attorney general's office is looking into hospitals and nursing homes very concerned about allegations of abuse and neglect and possible allegations -- and allegations of euthanasia, all of these maybe contributed to the deaths.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jeff Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles is in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for us today. Thanks a lot.
JEFFREY KAYE: You're welcome.