As Gustav evacuees return to New Orleans, a varied homecoming
Many find their houses are fairly intact. Power loss is still a problem.
As Gustav evacuees return home, and as those who stayed put survey the terrain, it's apparent how much a hurricane's unpredictability can cause varying degrees of damage.Skip to next paragraph
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On Wednesday afternoon, she turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door of the house she'd lived in for 22 years – the one that had been left under 12 feet of water after Katrina. She paused, peered in, and said, "Thank you, Jesus, thank you, God."
The house was dry and the electricity was on.
"The winds, the tornadoes, there's never been anything like this here. Trees, poles are down, there are huge electrical wires twisted in the cane fields, and the hospital had its roof ripped off," said Ms. Boudreaux, standing at dawn Wednesday with a small crowd outside the local hardware store, hoping it would open. "Katrina was nothing compared to this."
From an official point of view, Gustav's aftermath is being handled in a far more organized fashion than the disaster that followed Katrina. The chaos and confusion that marked the federal emergency response to Katrina have been replaced with a fairly well-coordinated effort between local, state, and federal officials, as well as National Guard troops and emergency personnel. It was best exemplified by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who took a helicopter tour of the state Wednesday, touching down at many of the worst-hit areas. During the tour, he made it clear to power companies and the federal officials that he demanded accountability.
"The bottom line is this: There is no excuse for delay; we absolutely need to quicken the pace at which power is restored," he said at a press conference in Baton Rouge on Wednesday morning. "I can't emphasize this enough: It is the No. 1 obstacle to our recovery."
After the storm hit Monday, more than 1 million homes in Louisiana were without power, according to estimates. By Thursday morning, an estimated 800,000 homes were still in the dark, and power officials predicted it could take several weeks to restore most of the electricity. In some of the worst-hit areas, like Plaquemine, it could be a month or more.
Following Katrina, it did take several weeks to restore power to the most affected parts of the state. There were 4,000 electrical crews for the job. This time, 15,000 utility trucks rolled into Louisiana. And the National Guard was there in force to help clear the roads of downed trees and debris so the electrical crews could do their work.
No question, there were still problems. Some shelters were overcrowded, and people there were frustrated they had to wait for buses to take them back to New Orleans until Wednesday or Thursday. As of Thursday morning, more than 80,000 people were still in shelters.