NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Workers here were picking up trash yesterday, a small miracle under the circumstances. The airport opened to cargo traffic. A bullhorn-wielding volunteer led relief workers in a chorus of “Amazing Grace.”

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught, the day was marked by signs that hopelessness was beginning to lift in this shattered city. While the final toll from the disaster remains unknown, there were indications New Orleans had begun to turn a corner.

“You see the cleaning of the streets. You see the people coming out,” said the volunteer with the bullhorn, Norman Flowers. “The people aren’t as afraid anymore.”

Flowers, deployed by the Southern Baptist Convention, stood in the bed of a pickup truck on Canal Street, leading police, firefighters and relief workers in song, punctuated by the exuberant honk of a fire truck nearby.

“This is a sign of progress,” said New Orleans resident Linda Taylor, gesturing at the impromptu gathering. “Last Sunday, I couldn’t find any church services. This Sunday, people have gathered together to worship.”

Numerous residents were able to visit their homes for the first time, however briefly, as floodwaters receded and work crews cleared trees, debris and downed telephone poles from major streets.

Albert Gaude III, a Louisiana State University fisheries agent, was among those returning for the first time since the storm.

“They wouldn’t let us in before, but we made it now and we could drive all the way here with no problem,” he said.

President Bush planned to fly to New Orleans late yesterday and spend the night. Today, he plans to tour the devastated town of Gulfport, Miss.

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport reopened for cargo traffic yesterday, and limited passenger service was expected to resume tomorrow, airport director Roy Williams said.

Williams said he expects about 30 departures and arrivals of passenger planes a day – far below the usual 174 – at the airport, where a week ago terminals became triage units and more than two dozen people died.

Trash collection began over the weekend, a service unimaginable in the apocalyptic first days after Katrina’s fury battered the Gulf Coast and broke holes in two levees, flooding most of New Orleans.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether New Orleans could stage Mardi Gras in February 2006. “I haven’t even thought that far out yet,” he said.

But he added, “It’s not out of the realm of possibilities. – It would be a huge boost if we could make it happen.”

Nagin declined to say when the city might be drained of floodwaters.

“But I always knew that once we got the pumps up, some of our significant pumps going, that we could accelerate the draining process,” he said. “The big one is pumping station six, which is our most powerful pump, and I am understanding that’s just about ready to go.”

The city’s main wastewater treatment facility will be running today, said Sgt. John Zeller, an engineer with the California National Guard.

“We’re making progress,” Zeller said. “This building was underwater yesterday.”

David Smith, a volunteer firefighter from Baton Rouge, said it’s a sign of progress that people like him are now in New Orleans aiding the city’s recovery.

“We are helping people get the medicine they need,” Smith said. “People who haven’t been able to get prescriptions filled. That’s a big step forward.”

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