- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - For the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 left New Orleans a quagmire of flooded streets and smashed homes, the city’s population has risen above 300,000 people, according to Census Bureau figures released Wednesday.

Demographers said the increase was tied to billions of dollars in rebuilding grants handed out to residents and the arrival of new people seeking to take part in the recovery, from laborers to young professionals. The Census estimated that on July 1, 2008, New Orleans had a population of 311,853, an increase of 23,740 over July 2007. Before the storm flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the city’s population was 455,000.

Maggie Merrill, Mayor Ray Nagin’s director of policy, said the data was “a tremendous milestone.”

“This reinforces what those of us who have been here working toward our recovery have known all along _ that New Orleanians are strong, resilient, and committed to our city,” she said.

Some indications from other sources indicate the city actually might have more than 300,000 people, and Merrill said the city would challenge the 2008 estimates.

For New Orleans residents, the projections confirm what they’ve seen with their own eyes _ slow but steady progress in the recovery from Katrina.

“I am seeing cranes in the sky all over the city and cones in the street,” said Steve Villavaso, a New Orleans urban planner involved in the city’s rebuilding efforts. “I always said it would take 10 years, a 10-year cycle, to get us back to recovery, where we were before Katrina.”

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