HAVING been spared catastrophe, Louisiana faces an extended recovery from Hurricane Gustav, which is estimated to have caused up to $12 billion damage.
New Orleans's evacuated populace could be back within days, but many among the 1.9 million who fled the Gulf Coast will find their return delayed by power failures, blocked roads, and wind-damaged and flooded neighbourhoods.
Many officials, including New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, yesterday warned residents not to rush home until mandatory evacuation orders were lifted and authorities had ensured residential areas were safe.
The statements did not deter tens of thousands of people from trying to return to their homes. The Herald Sun witnessed a 50km line of bumper-to-bumper traffic moving at a snail's pace along a major freeway from Texas to the Louisiana state border.
Authorities said that before people were moved out of shelters and residents were allowed home, each bridge that had been in the path of the storm needed to be inspected. Regional officials were to lift evacuation orders one by one.
New Orleans remained a ghost town, occupied only by the few residents who remained, levee workers, police and soldiers. Louisiana State Police troopers manning roadblocks turned back most cars.
Even as Gustav vanished, emergency officials were assessing the likelihood that a new hurricane could strike the Atlantic coast this week.
Yesterday, tropical storm Hanna left at least 19 dead in Haiti as it unleashed heavy wind and rain on the Bahamas and threatened to head toward the south-eastern US coastline.
Behind Hanna, tropical storms Ike and Josephine were also threatening to follow Gustav's path and turn into hurricanes next week.
Since Gustav failed to deliver the threatened catastrophe, officials worry people may not heed their warnings next time.
As others prepared to return home, one family that needs no warning about hurricanes was left pondering its future.
Nelson and Faith Roberts's daughters, now five, were conceived as a tropical storm raged through Louisiana, inspiring the couple to name them Stormy and Rainie.
But Hurricane Gustav will not hold such fond memories. The couple were grim-faced yesterday after learning that their home in the coastal town of Labadieville, 87km south-west of New Orleans, had been destroyed by the Category Two storm the previous afternoon.
Ms Roberts, 30, said she broke down when a neighbour called to tell them the wind had demolished their three-bedroom house.
"I cried and cried and I haven't been able to stop shaking since," she said.
"We don't know where to go."
It is the second time the family has been left homeless by a hurricane. Their previous house in the city of Houma, 74km south-west of New Orleans, was flattened by the devastating force of Katrina three years ago.
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia -