New Orleans residents returning home after Gustav
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- City and state officials tried to hold them off, but New Orleans residents would have none of it. After Hurricane Gustav brushed by the city, they wanted back in, and now.
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So Mayor Ray Nagin relented and allowed the first of them to begin streaming in from evacuation Wednesday.
But more than a million homes and businesses across three states were still without electricity and officials said it could take as long as a month to fully restore power.
As residents came home to New Orleans, President Bush returned to the site of one of the biggest failures of his presidency to show that the government had turned a corner since its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Faced with traffic backups on paths into the city, Nagin gave up checking ID badges and automobile placards designed to keep residents out until early Thursday. Those who returned said if the city was safe enough for repair crews and health care workers, it was safe enough for them, too.
"People need to get home, need to get their houses straight and get back to work," said George Johnson, who used back roads to sneak into the city. "They want to keep you out of your own property. That's just not right."
But once back at home, many people had no power and no idea when it might return. Outages were widespread across Louisiana and thousands more lost power in parts of Mississippi and Arkansas.
"There is no excuse for the delay. We absolutely need to quicken the pace at which power is restored," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
Within hours of returning to his suburban home, Paul Braswell was sweating over an outdoor grill as he cooked the chicken and deer sausage he stored in his freezer alongside gallon-size blocks of ice before evacuating with his family to Mississippi.
"We don't have any power, and we don't know when it'll come back on, so we're going to eat all we can until it does," he said. "Tomorrow, we're boiling shrimp my mom left in her freezer."
Restoring power was critical to reopening schools, businesses and neighborhoods. Without electricity, gas stations could not pump fuel and hospitals were running out of fuel for generators.
Some places never lost power, including the Superdome, where the Saints planned to open their regular football season Sunday.
In Jefferson Parish, which also reopened Wednesday, officials reported that most sewage-treatment stations were out of service because there was no power. The parish urged residents not to flush toilets, wash clothes or dishes, or even take showers out of concern that the system might backup and send sewage flowing in home and businesses.
After touring an emergency center and flooded-out farmland, President Bush praised the government response to Gustav as "excellent," but he urged utility companies in neighboring states to send extra manpower to Louisiana if they could spare it.
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