Orland Population
© Sean Gardner by USA TODAY
Abandoned lots and flood-wrecked homes remain one of the city's top hurdles to full recovery from the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Rocked by natural disasters and a steady exodus of residents, this flood-damaged city lost nearly a third of its population in the past decade, according to Census data released Thursday.

Census workers counted 343,829 residents in New Orleans last year, down from 485,000 in 2000, or a 29% drop, according to the data. The count was slightly lower than previous estimates of 355,000.

The city has struggled to repopulate since Hurricane Katrina and a breach of federal levees flooded 80% of the city in 2005, scattering much of its citizenry. Just before the storm, there were about 455,000 people living in New Orleans, according to Census figures.

The new Census numbers will impact everything from how the city picks up its garbage to how it plans to rebuild parts of the city still battered from the floods, says Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which helped establish the earlier estimates using postal records and other methods.

"There's been a lot of uncertainty, not just about how many people are in New Orleans but how many people are in St. Bernard Parish and other parishes," Plyer says. "The most valid number will be the Census number."

The new numbers shouldn't affect the more than $1 billion in recovery funds slated for or spent in the city, Plyer says.

Louisiana's largest parish is East Baton Rouge, which has a population of 440,171, according to the Census data. One of its fastest-growing parishes is St. Tammany, a New Orleans suburb, which grew 22% the past decade to 233,740, according to the figures.

Even though it lost nearly a third of its residents, New Orleans remains the state's most populous city, the figures show. Seven parishes lost populations at double-digit rates and 10 of them gained at the national population growth rate of 4% or higher, says Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport political analyst and demographer.

"There were no surprises" related to those population shifts, he says.