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New Orleans shrinks as planning delays keep evacuees away

NEW ORLEANS' failure to produce a clear reconstruction strategy has delayed rebuilding of the hurricane ravaged city, a leading local academic claimed this week.

Louisiana State University landscape architecture director Bruce Sharky said that nearly two-thirds of New Orleans' population had failed to return to rebuild their homes after fleeing from Hurricane Katrina last August.

He said they had stayed away because they do not know what shape the city will take.

'There's one definition of what [rebuilding the city] entails. It's because there's not the political will to make that decision, ' said Sharky.

Official estimates of New Orleans' population put the current figure at 181,400, compared to 484,674 before the storm hit on 29 August last year.

Lack of planning has also stopped private investment wing into the city, said Louisiana State economic development director Dell Dempsey.

'I understand there are a lot of international investors and banks sat on the sidelines waiting for the [planning] issues to be resolved, ' she added.

This slow progress contrasts starkly with the construction taking place in the neighbouring state of Mississippi.

Towns like Biloxi and Gulfport were also flattened by Katrina, but private investment has flooded in. After the hurricane, the state changed its gambling laws to allow land-based casinos. Previously they were forced to operate on barges moored to quaysides.

This legislative change triggered the construction of casinos and housing developments; Mississippi is seeking to make itself the Las Vegas of the US South.

The City of New Orleans is consulting on a plan called 'Bring New Orleans Back, ' which recommends a stronger flood protection system for the city. The plan also hints that some of the areas could be turned into floodplanes, but falls short of making specific recommendations.

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