Though anticipating damage similar to three years ago, residents of greater New Orleans were largely spared devastation from Hurricane Gustav, which came ashore west of the city on Monday. Joining highly organized columns of evacuees, Jewish residents across the Gulf Coast headed to points inland. The five families of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries serving New Orleans relocated to the Birmingham headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch of Alabama.

The exodus back home is expected to begin today, following a decision from New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

“By tomorrow, people will start coming back,” Rabbi Mendel Rivkin, program director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana, said yesterday. “Most of what was feared would happen didn’t happen at all. Aside from a loss of power, everything was fine. We’re happy that no damage was sustained and we’re looking forward to returning [home].”

Gustav, which in the days leading up to its Sept. 1 arrival, had been branded the “storm of the century” – spurring fears of another Hurricane Katrina that would inundate New Orleans – was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane shortly before its landfall near Cocodrie, La. New Orleans, however, was spared the wrath of hurricane-force winds.

On Tuesday, according to The New York Times, nearly 80,000 homes in New Orleans remained without power.

By most accounts, the region was prepared for the hurricane, with residents largely heeding the dire warnings of elected officials to get out of the storm’s path. The drive to Birmingham that Rivkin and his colleagues embarked on Sunday took 12 hours to complete, double the typical time.

“We’re grateful for the hospitality of Birmingham,” said Professor Dovid Kaufmann, administrator of Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to repay their hospitality during a more joyous occasion.

“We’re just really glad this wasn’t another Katrina,” he added. “Now, everyone just wants to get home and get back to work.”

Jewish community members also evacuated to Memphis, Tenn., Atlanta and the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Miss., where an estimated 150 people fled, according to blogger and New Orleans resident Alan Smason.

“According to reports, news from the city is good this morning,” Smason wrote from Mississippi on Monday. “Yet, as was the case with Katrina, it could have been much worse.”

Rabbi Yossi Nemes, co-director of the Chabad Center of Metairie, La., returned to the New Orleans suburb on Tuesday after a weeklong trip to Israel. The Chabad House sustained no damage, a far cry from the flooding caused by Katrina in 2005.

“The power went off for just a few hours. Even the food in our freezer stayed frozen,” said Nemes. “Any assistance needed in the neighborhood was very temporary. There is no comparison to Katrina.”

Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, the director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center serving Tulane University, said that the university – which began the fall semester last Wednesday – cancelled classes until next week. Students were fine, he added.

Said Rivkin: “Thank G‑d, this was not the disaster that was predicted.”