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New Orleans to notify homeowners before razings

NEW ORLEANS -- Under pressure from residents and a lawsuit, the city has agreed to notify owners before any hurricane-damaged home is demolished, even those dwellings washed into streets or reduced to heaps of debris.

Homeowners were outraged last month when a top official announced that 2,500 buildings had to be torn down within weeks because they posed an imminent threat to the public.

A lawsuit was filed to stop the city from proceeding with its plans, and on Dec. 28 New Orleans agreed to put off any demolitions until the case could be heard in court.

On Friday, a federal judge approved a settlement between the city and plaintiffs that set up a notification system.

Under the agreement, homeowners of about 120 properties that were seriously damaged or pose an immediate threat to the public will be given seven to 10 days' notice. A 30-day notice will be given to the owners of about 1,900 other houses slated for demolition.

Homeowners will be able to challenge demolitions.

''There are a lot of folks around town who I expect will protest," said Tracie Washington, a lawyer with the Washington-based Advancement Project, the advocacy group that championed the fight against the demolitions.

The city has said it will begin notifying residents within weeks.

Washington said the lawsuit was filed because many of the residents who evacuated to other cities have not had a chance to go through their homes to find their possessions, or because in some cases, they were still waiting for insurers to assess the damage.

The city has said that as many as 5,500 homes and businesses on the east bank of the Mississippi River may need to be razed.

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