New Orelans still at risk

The Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, gave residents the go-ahead to return to the s US southern city today, but with some warnings – many homes are without electricity or working toilets and a dusk-to-dawn curfew is still in effect.

“It’s my humble opinion that the city is still in a very, very vulnerable state,” Mayorr Nagin said.

Millions fled the Gulf Coast in fear of Hurricane Gustav, and many were ready to get back home after spending several days in hot, overcrowded shelters.

Late last night, there were still almost 800k homes in Louisiana without electric power, including about 77,000 in the city of New Orleans itself.

Officials said the main transmission lines into southern Louisiana were crippled and they had no timetable of when much of the power might be restored.

The mayor said he had no choice but to begin allowing residents back because neighbouring parishes were reopening this morning.

But they, too, face the dangers of downed power lines and trees.

Still, residents who evacuated coastal areas want to return, realising this was no Katrina, which killed 1,600 people in 2005. Only Nine deaths have been attributed to Gustav in the US in comparison.

Early insurance industry estimates put the expected damage to covered properties at anywhere from €1.23bn to €6.15bn. That’s high, but well short of Katrina’s €24.6bn. Still a good time to buy stock in Home depot though

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he won two promises from the federal government that will ease Louisiana’s recovery: the White House approved his “major disaster” declaration request, allowing residents of 34 parishes to receive federal funding for housing and recovery, and a strategic oil reserve will be opened to help reverse a severe shortage of fuel, particularly in south Louisiana.

Initial inspections showed little damage to the Gulf Coast’s extensive oil and gas installations, though resumption of production and refining could still take a few days.

Power cuts caused by Gustav forced officials to transport scores of patients from hospitals and other medical facilities for fear they couldn’t survive long without air conditioning.

Emergency officials strongly defended the decision to evacuate, saying that with something as unpredictable as a hurricane, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Officials noted that New Orleans’ levees held, and Gustav struck only a glancing blow. But when trees fell on homes, power lines went down and roads were washed out in parts of south Louisiana, there was no one around to get hurt.

“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.”

US president George Bush is keeping a hands-on profile in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, in contrast with his administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

This time he’s quickly flying down to the Gulf Coast to survey the storm damage on the ground in Louisiana, where the focus has turned to getting people who fled the storm back into their homes.

He was to make the trip today.

On the eve of his departure, Mr Bush said: “We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared.”

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