Workers take down protective plywood at a store in Houston.
D Lopez  /  San Antonio Express-New via Zuma
Workers take down protective plywood at a store in Houston.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/29/2005 8:53:11 AM ET 2005-09-29T12:53:11

There's a line out the door at the IHOP. It's the same at Denny's. At Starbucks, though, cars drive into the parking lot but quickly pull out again. No java jolts here. The store is still closed. 

After a mass exodus it has never before experienced, the nation's fourth largest city is coming back.

Cars full of families are arriving home and residents are pulling plywood from windows. The city picked up trash today and the Houston Chronicle was delivered.

Not quite a usual Monday
But it is far from business as usual. The sound of chainsaws is constant, as homeowners cut downed branches and limbs into more manageable pieces. Schools are shut down until Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of are without power and the usual Monday-morning gridlock was nowhere to be found.

More than a million people are believed to have evacuated the city, and it appears many of those are still out of town. Which is probably a good thing — the restaurants that have reopened are short on food and staff.

No one complains, though. There is unusual patience and compassion on display.  People wait their turn and order from a limited menu, happy to have a hot meal. Others report having sufficient food at home, but just felt the need to get out.

Those who have lost power for more than a day or so are emptying the contents of refrigerators into trash cans.

Heat not taking a break
The chaotic traffic jams of last week are gone. Houstonians are coming back in stages, as planners hoped.

Mayor Bill White is urging doctors and nurses to return to hospitals, but grocery and gas station workers also are are needed. So are those who work at the airports, Bush InterContinental and Hobby.

It's hot today. Unseasonably hot, even for Houston. Temperatures are in the 90s, with a heat index topping 100 degrees.

Windows are open everywhere. It's an unusual sight here, since extensive air conditioning is usually the norm. Motorists have even turned off their air conditioners. Homeowners without power pray for a breeze.

Despite it all, there is a sense of good humor about the business of getting back to normal. Houston was spared, and the people who call it home know it.  

Janet Shamlian is an NBC News Correspondent who has been reporting on Hurricane Rita.

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