New Orleans prepares for mass return after Gustav

Workers mopped up New Orleans after Hurricane Gustav and officials told residents they could come home on Thursday to a darkened city still struggling to restore power and basic services.

Almost all US energy production in the Gulf of Mexico remained shut yesterday but producers said they found little damage to refineries or offshore platforms.

Officials said full output from the Gulf region, home to 25 per cent of US crude oil production, could take two weeks.

US President George Bush, roundly criticised in 2005 for a slow response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, declared a major disaster in Louisiana ahead of his visit to the state today.

That declaration cleared the way for federal aid to cover temporary housing for evacuees and low-cost loans for uninsured property losses.

Half of New Orleans still lacked power, the sewage system was damaged and hospitals had only skeleton crews. But Gustav's floodwaters ebbed, easing pressure on the storm barriers that failed during Katrina three years ago, when 80 per cent of the city was flooded and thousands of people were stranded.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said a mandatory evacuation order would be lifted at midnight tonight, telling the 95 per cent of the city's residents who fled that they could start to come home early tomorrow.

"The message is: We want you to come into the city, check on your property, make sure that you are comfortable and make an intelligent decision on whether you want to stay in this environment or not," Nagin told reporters.

But New Orleans remained in a "vulnerable state," he said, after a "stealth storm" that damaged the region in ways that were not as visible as the destruction caused by Katrina.

Authorities credited the massive evacuation in Louisiana - some 1.9 million people fled the coast as Gustav roared across the Gulf of Mexico - with saving lives. The state has reported six storm-related deaths.

The powerful hurricane earlier killed nearly 100 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

US disaster officials turned their eye to new, dangerous storms churning in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Hanna was moving through the Bahamas and threatened the US east coast from Florida to the Carolinas, and tropical storms Ike and Josephine trekked westward toward the Caribbean.

Gustav's aftermath in New Orleans provided a stark contrast to that of Katrina three years ago, when looters roamed the streets and rescue helicopters buzzed over the city, plucking thousands of people from rooftops and bridges.

This time, workers with brooms and rakes cleaned up fallen leaves and branches. Soldiers and police let in emergency crews but turned away residents, patrolling conspicuously in vehicles with flashing lights to deter looting.

New Orleans police said they had arrested only two people for looting during the storm. A curfew would remain in effect even after residents begin to return, Nagin said.

Some parishes near New Orleans reopened to residents as police checkpoints snarled returning traffic. Near LaPlace, some 25 miles west of New Orleans, cars and trucks were backed up for about three miles on Interstate 10 with police ordering about half of those approaching to turn back.

Some callers to radio stations said they had run out of money for hotels and were sitting in their cars, with children, on highways outside the city waiting for permission to return.

Louisiana Govenor Bobby Jindal said utilities and regulators had said it could take up to six weeks to restore full power.

"I made it clear that is unacceptable," he said. "We have to do everything possible to make sure that happens more quickly."

Some of those who stayed behind seemed determined to live up to the New Orleans motto - "Let the good times roll."

The French Quarter, the heart of the city, began coming back to life as proprietors of bars, cafes and galleries took down storm shutters, swept up debris and reopened their doors.

"I guess if somebody came in we could make a sale, why not? It's over with, we've got to move on to the next level," Louis Sahuc said at his gallery in the French Quarter, where Gustav ripped off some shutters and punched in windows.

Relief agencies turned their attention to feeding and housing evacuees for a few more days. The American Red Cross had 60,000 people in shelters across the Gulf on Monday night.

At one point a 150-mph monster, Gustav barged ashore on the Gulf Coast on Monday as a weaker storm with 110 mph winds. Many had feared a repeat of the damage caused by Katrina, the costliest hurricane in US history.

Gustav landed southwest of New Orleans but proved a crucial test for levees that collapsed during Katrina, which killed 1,500 people.

The levees are being rebuilt and will not be finished until 2011 but they did not break. Water surged over floodwalls and squirted through cracks but the city stayed mainly dry.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little