La. Officials Tell Evacuees It's Too Early to Return Home

Hurricane Gustav lashed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 2 storm, but has now weakened to Category 1. The storm's path takes it over the region around the key oil hub of Port Fourchon, which services deep-water oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 2 -- Even though Hurricane Gustav did not wreak the destruction expected when it struck the Gulf Coast on Monday, officials said Tuesday that they were not ready to allow many of the 1.9 million Louisiana residents who had evacuated to return to their homes.

But under pressure from evacuees, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) announced late Tuesday that all residents of the city would be allowed to come back after 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

While the worst was avoided -- there were no major levee breaks of the sort that inundated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) cautioned that the state still faces major hurdles before life returns to normal.

"This was a serious storm that has caused major damage," Jindal said, as the hurricane's trailing edge continued to dump rain across the state. "This is a challenge that is not going away overnight. We did not have the levee breaches, but we have major challenges from Hurricane Gustav."

President Bush declared a major disaster in Louisiana, and he ordered federal aid to bolster state and local recovery efforts. The federal assistance may include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, as well as other programs to help residents recover.

Jindal and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned at an evening briefing that extensive power outages and a lack of gasoline supplies could make life difficult for those who return home quickly.

"I do want to warn people: If you're going back, make sure you know what the conditions are," the governor said.

Some towns were completely without power, and vast portions of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas were knocked off the national electricity grid, said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary of energy for electricity delivery and energy reliability. The amount of destruction to the region's grid was surpassed only by that from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Of immediate concern were about a dozen hospitals that had limited electricity service, raising the possibility that some of the 800 patients will need to be evacuated -- in addition to the hundreds already removed to more secure facilities, Jindal said.

State and federal officials said they were moving fuel to hospitals and other key facilities to ensure that they can continue to run generators.

To clear debris, distribute supplies and secure communities isolated by the storm, thousands of National Guard troops, federal law enforcement officers and other emergency workers were being deployed.

Meanwhile, Gustav continued to spawn bad weather. The National Weather Service reported that a tornado touched down in New Orleans's West Bank neighborhood Tuesday night, and there were reports of flooding along several rivers in residential neighborhoods on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans.

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