NEW ORLEANS — The road back home for the estimated 2 million Hurricane Gustav evacuees was slow going Tuesday, as those trying to filter back to the coast were greeted by police checkpoints and National Guardsmen who said it was still too dangerous to return.
Though the storm largely spared New Orleans and Louisiana, hard-hit neighborhoods still had no power, and roads were blocked by trees. With only a handful of communities allowing re-entry, thousands grew frustrated in shelters, sitting on uncomfortable cots and wondering why the buses wouldn't come and drive them back.
"It's frustrating. I'm ready to go now," said Denise Preston, who was taken to a hospital with a fever. She was with her infant son, who was born only a week ago. "They haven't said too much on the news about what's happened in my town."
There was quiet pride in the historic evacuation of nearly 2 million people. Only eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the United States. The toll from Katrina in 2005 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."
The focus turned to getting the evacuees back home. Gov. Bobby Jindal said officials are focused on taking care of the roughly 1,000 critical-needs medical patients evacuated from hospitals and nursing homes, while also working with utilities to restore the more than 1.4 million power outages the storm left behind.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said it would be at least Thursday before the city reopened, and people would come back: critical employees and businesses first, then residents.
Meanwhile, three new storms were lining up in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Hannah, downgraded from a hurricane but with ample time to regain strength, was forecast to turn to the northwest from the Bahamas. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency, and officials there, in Georgia and the Carolinas weighed possible evacuations.