WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Orleans, abandoned by thousands of residents after destructive floods and hurricanes in 2005, was one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States last year, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday.
The Louisiana city's population climbed by 4 percent, with an increase of 39,885 residents between July 2006 and July 2007, making it the eighth-fastest growing metro area in the country, the bureau said.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into other cities along the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2005, and the census said they, too, saw modest increases in their population last year. In Mississippi, Gulfport had 1.8 percent population growth and Pascagoula had 1.6 percent growth. Beaumont, Texas, experienced a 0.5 percent increase in population, and Louisiana's Lake Charles a 0.4 percent increase.
In 2006, the nonprofit research organization Rand Corporation estimated fewer than 200,000 people were living in New Orleans, compared to 485,000 in 2000. Residents were evacuated to cities around the United States and many never returned.
In general, eight of the ten cities with the highest rate of increase were located in the South, the census said, including Palm Coast, Raleigh, Gainesville, Austin, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and Clarksville.
The 50 fastest-growing cities were split roughly between the South and the West, according to the census, with none located in the Northeast.
In terms of numerical growth, the cities with the largest gains were concentrated in the Southwest, with Dallas netting the most new residents last year at 162,250, according to the census.
The Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario metropolitan area in California, called "The Inland Empire" by some locals, gained 86,660 residents last year, ranking it fifth in terms of population increases despite a foreclosure crisis that has gripped the desert region for more than a year.
According to RealtyTrac, a database compiling foreclosure rates, foreclosures in Riverside and San Bernardino counties were among the highest in the nation at the end of 2006, in the middle of the census' survey period, and they continue to grow as the housing boom fizzles. Earlier this month, RealtyTrac said the area had the fifth-highest foreclosure rate nation-wide.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama