A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, an alarming number of residents are leaving or seriously thinking of getting out for good.
They have become fed up with the violence, the bureaucracy, the political finger-pointing, the sluggish rebuilding and the doubts about the safety of the levees.
"The mayor says, `Come back home. Every area should come back.' For what?" said Genevieve Bellow, who rebuilt her home in heavily damaged eastern New Orleans but has been unable to get anything done about the trash and abandoned apartment buildings in her neighborhood and may leave town. "I have no confidence in anything or anybody."
A survey released in November found that 32 percent of city residents polled may leave within two years. University of New Orleans political scientist Susan Howell, who did the survey, said more will give up if the recovery does not pick up speed.
In fact, figures from the nation's top three moving companies suggest more people left the area than moved into it last year.
"People are in a state of limbo. They're asking, `Is it worth it for me to stay? Is it worth it to invest?' If you don't feel safe, from crime or the levees, and you see destruction every day when you drive, it becomes discouraging," Howell said.
If there is an exodus, it could mean more than just a shrunken New Orleans. It could mean a poorer city, financially and culturally, and a more desperate one, too, since the people likely to leave are the most highly educated and younger.
Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco have urged residents to return under rebuilding plans with names like Bring New Orleans Back and Road Home. The mayor has warned that the recovery will take a decade and has urged people not to give up hope.
But New Orleans' population appears to have plateaued at about half the pre-storm level of 455,000, well short of Nagin's prediction of 300,000 by the end of 2006. And in many ways, it is a meaner city than it was before the hurricane.