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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall