METAIRIE, La. – Thousands of residents began returning to homes in the New Orleans suburbs on Sunday to find debris-strewn yards and homes without power or working sewers.
But amid the damage, a few gas stations were open, along with a handful of coffee shops and burger joints and signs of rebuilding.
One pharmacy was busy with residents stocking up on milk and other supplies before heading home for the first time since Hurricane Katrina (search) made landfall on Aug. 29. Officials gave the all-clear for the return to Jefferson Parish (search) on Sunday.
"It feels good to come out again," said Rolita Smith, 38, who ventured out to buy a bottle of whiskey for her cousin's birthday.
A few miles away in New Orleans, crews were still searching flooded neighborhoods by boat and recovering the dead.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (search) has said he plans to allow residents to start returning to the city Monday, beginning with the Algiers neighborhood (search), across the Mississippi River from downtown.
Algiers, the French Quarter (search) and other neighborhoods he wants to open in the coming weeks suffered the least of the damage. But while Nagin has the authority to open the barriers to residents, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal disaster response, urged homeowners to wait awhile longer.
He planned to meet with Nagin on Monday and develop what he called a logical plan to repopulate the city.
"I wouldn't want to attach a time limit to it, but it includes things like making sure there's potable water, making sure there's a 911 system in place, telephone, a means to notify people there is an approaching storm so you can evacuate it with the weakened levee situation," Allen said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
"We can do that, and we can do that fairly soon," he said, "but it's very, very soon to try and do that this week."
Some areas of the city remain uninhabitable and are likely to remain so for months, if not years.
State and local officials have so far linked 883 along the Gulf Coast to the hurricane, 646 in Louisiana alone, and the search for bodies continues.
Former President Bill Clinton (search), speaking on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, directed some blame for the plight of the poor, caught in the devastation often for a lack of transportation and now in shelters scattered around the country, at the Bush administration.
"You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle class people up, and when you tell people to go do something they don't have the means to do, you're going to leave the poor out," Clinton said.
In Jefferson Parish on Sunday, some 15,000 suburban homes were still without power, and others still lacked sewer service as pumping stations continued to be brought online, but residents were still returning home.
Gloria Jee, 79, stood outside her son's home in Metairie on Sunday. Her own home in the Lakeview section of New Orleans was destroyed by the flood and she has no flood insurance.
"At least I've got this," she said, gesturing to her son's house. "I'm strong. And I trust in God. He will see me through."