NEW ORLEANS — Mayor Ray Nagin says that residents can return to New Orleans early Thursday to look at the damage caused by Hurricane Gustav, but he doesn't recommend anyone staying permanently.
In making the announcement late Tuesday, Nagin warned that many homes still do not have electricity and that water and sewer systems are running on backup power. Officials set up checkpoints around the city and hard-hit neighborhoods and promised the National Guard and state police would stop people not authorized to return.
There was quiet pride in a historic evacuation of nearly 2-million people. Only eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the United States. 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," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "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."
President Bush, who is traveling to Louisiana today to survey damage, praised the several governors for their work, saying, "I commend the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas for their sure-handed response and seamless coordination with the federal government." Bush said that while it's too early to assess damage to the nation's energy infrastructure from Gustav, Congress needs to lift the ban on drilling for oil and natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf.
Despite the successes, officials warned residents not to take this as a sign they should not evacuate next time. Before Gustav even finished lashing northward, eyes turned to three more storms in the Atlantic basin.
"It is no time to be complacent," Gov. Bobby Jindal said. "Every storm is different. This could have very easily put several feet of water in heavily populated areas."
Cuba took brunt of storm
More than 90,000 houses were damaged or destroyed when Gustav tore through western Cuba Saturday evening as a Category 4 hurricane, packing 150-mph winds and gusts up to 212 mph. Gustav was the most powerful storm to hit western Cuba in 64 years, officials in the province of Pinar del Rio say. An estimated 80 percent of the province's 750,000 residents were left without power, but no deaths were reported. Power was also completely knocked out on the Isle of Youth, which has about 90,000 residents.
David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent
Three years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed this city, leaving a chaos unseen in modern history in America, Gustav showed lessons learned.
Levees: They held. There were no reports of major flooding in New Orleans. Since 2005, $2-billion of work has been completed on the area's levees. But another $16-billion in projects remains. Mayor Ray Nagin said Gustav showed the strengthened levees could withstand a Category 2 storm.
Looting: New Orleans police and the National Guard were out in force before, during and after the storm. New Orleans police reported two arrests for looting on Monday. A curfew remained in effect from dusk to dawn.
FEMA response: The Federal Emergency Management Agency was present in New Orleans days before landfall, coordinating evacuation and response.