NEW ORLEANS This city rubbed its eyes and started to get moving again as evacuees continued to stream home on Thursday after a hurricane scare that left it with little serious damage but knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes.
Restaurateurs began to pull off plywood boards installed for Hurricane Gustav, and the few cafes opened were filled with people. There were long lines at the handful of grocery stores that had opened, and traffic once again flowed in the downtown streets.
There were other signs of returning normality in a city where the weather forces its semi-regular suspension: Garbage was set to be picked up, the airport reopened, Friday lunch at Galatoire's in the Quarter was on again, and mail delivery was scheduled to be resumed. Crime, another staple of life here, started up after a hiatus during the storm, with the police reporting nine arrests for looting by Wednesday night.
Power remained out in 62,000 homes, down from a peak of 107,000, and the loud hum of generators filled some neighborhoods here. But energy company executives, under pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and hot and weary residents, promised a speeding-up of repairs. For the first time this week, trucks with the logo of Entergy, the power provider, were visible on city streets. Mayor C. Ray Nagin said "90 to 95 percent" of residents would see their power turned back on by the weekend.
"The city is still improving, and improving rapidly," Nagin told television interviewers on Thursday morning. "Any business person who's out there and not open yet," he said, should return "because you are losing a lot of money."
It was a change of tone for the mayor, who had spent the first several days after Hurricane Gustav discouraging people from returning immediately to a city he insisted was not yet ready for them. But pressure from residents eager to return, even if their homes were hot and dark, proved too great.
On a quiet street in the Carrollton neighborhood, Thom Duram had posted a colorful sign outside his rambling old home: "Thank You God." He had made it soon after Hurricane Gustav passed."The whole time Gustav was coming here I prayed, 'Please don't let us get the brunt of the storm,"' Duram, a medical editor, explained. His house took over 4 feet of water in Hurricane Katrina.
With the power off, life was uncomfortable, but "things could be a lot worse," Duram said. "It's just that the house is so hot."