Evacuees Head Home After Hurricane Gustav
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NEW ORLEANS — The road back home for the estimated 2 million Hurricane Gustav evacuees was slow going yesterday, as those trying to filter into the coast were greeted by police checkpoints and National Guardsmen who told them it was still too dangerous to return.
Though the storm largely spared New Orleans and Louisiana, hard-hit neighborhoods still had no power, and roads were blocked by trees. With only a handful of communities allowing re-entry, thousands grew frustrated in shelters, sitting on uncomfortable cots and wondering why the buses wouldn’t come and drive them back.
“It’s frustrating. I’m ready to go now,” Denise Preston, who was rushed to a hospital with a fever, said. She was with her infant son, who was born only a week ago. “They haven’t said too much on the news about what’s happened in my town.”
A day after the city’s improved levee system kept the streets dry as a disorganized and weakened Gustav passed overhead, there was quiet pride in a historic evacuation of nearly 2 million people. Only eight deaths were attributed to the storm in America. The toll from Katrina three years ago exceeded 1,600.
“The reasons you’re not seeing dramatic stories of rescue is because we had a successful evacuation,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. “The only reason we don’t have more tales of people in grave danger is because everyone heeded … the instructions to get out of town.”
The focus turned to getting the evacuees back home. Governor Bobby Jindal said officials are focused on taking care of the roughly 1,000 critical needs medical patients evacuated from hospitals and nursing homes, while also working with utilities to restore the more than 1.4 million power outages the storm left behind. Mayor Nagin of New Orleans said it would be at least tomorrow before the city reopened, and people would come back in waves: critical employees and businesses first, then residents.
In related news, Nervous residents rushed to buy plywood and generators while emergency officials in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas weighed possible evacuations yesterday as Tropical Storm Hanna was expected to shift toward a tough-to-predict landfall along the southern Atlantic coast by the end of the week.
Governor Charlie Crist of Florida declared a state of emergency as Hanna, downgraded from hurricane status yesterday but with ample time to regain strength, was forecast to turn to the northwest from the Bahamas. Emergency officials in Georgia and South Carolina went into 24-hour alert mode.