New Orleans: Fastest growing city in the U.S.

Annual census report highlights Big Easy's big charge back since Katrina. Small cities in Texas, North Carolina and Arizona are right behind it.

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By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

10 Fastest growing cities
Where the rate of gain is highest
City Pop. 2008 Gain (%)
New Orleans La. 311,853 8.2%
Round Rock Tex. 104,446 8.2%
Cary N.C. 129,545 6.9%
Gilbert Ariz. 216,449 5.0%
McKinney Tex. 121,211 4.8%
Roseville Calif. 112,660 3.8%
Irvine Calif. 207,500 3.8%
Raleigh N.C. 392,552 3.8%
Killeen Tex. 116,934 3.8%
Fort Worth Tex. 703,073 3.6%
Source:U.S. Census Bureau
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Big Easy is making a big comeback. New Orleans has steadily won back some of the population it lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to a government report released Wednesday.

New Orleans lost more than half its residents during the deluge. Few large U.S. cities have ever had to cope with a disaster on that scale. Since then, it has been one of the country's fastest growing cities.

Only a couple of instances can compare. Galveston, Texas, was also devastated by a hurricane in 1900, a storm that remains the most lethal natural disaster in U.S. history with a toll of about 6,000 deaths. And San Francisco was almost leveled by the earthquake and fire of 1906.

New Orleans is now growing rapidly. Its population is up 8.2% in the 12 months that ended July 1, 2008, gaining 23,740 people to 311,853, according to the Census Bureau. That still leaves it well below its pre-storm population of 484,674.

For sheer numerical increase, New York City trumped the birthplace of jazz. During the same 12-month period, Gotham added nearly 53,500 residents, more than any other city. That represented a growth rate of only 0.6%.

Following New York City were Phoenix, which added 33,184 residents (2.1%) to a total of 1,567,924, and Houston, up 33,063 to 2,242,193 (1.5%).

The top percentage winners, after New Orleans, were Round Rock, Texas, part of the Austin metropolitan area, which grew by 8.2% to 104,446; Cary, N.C., which gained 6.9% to 129,545; and Gilbert, Ariz., which swelled by 5% to 216,449.

New York retained its position as the largest U.S. city by far. Its nearly 8.4 million folks crammed into 303 square miles is more than twice the number of people who live in sprawling Los Angeles, the nation's second biggest city with 3,833,995 people.

Chicago, once the nation's second city, has fallen nearly a million behind Los Angeles with 2,853,114.

Most old Midwestern and Northeastern cities have shrunk in population since World War II as heavy industry waned in importance to the overall economy. Much of the growth in these areas occurred in suburban towns and were not counted in central city population figures.

Meanwhile, many Sun Belt towns exploded with growth as job opportunities in new technology industries proliferated. Northerners, including retirees, also moved south and west, lured by the warmer winters and relaxed life styles.

Among old-line cities, New York has been one of the few to buck this trend. In the years since the last census in 2000, it has gained 355,056 residents, a substantial gain and more than the total number of people who live in St. Louis.

The highest rate of growth since 2000 was reported by McKinney, Texas, which more than doubled to 121,211 from 54,369. Gilbert, Ariz., was second with an 88.7% jump to 216,449.

Few losers

Of the 25 largest cities, only a handful experienced population loss.

Detroit, suffering from the turmoil in the auto industry, fell 0.5% to 912,062. The population of Philadelphia dipped slightly to 1,447,395 from 1.446,631. Baltimore dropped 0.5% to 636,919 and Memphis fell at about the same percentage rate to 660,651.

There have been some changes this year to the 25 largest cities.

For one thing, Denver moved into 24th place with 598,707 residents. It replaced Nashville, which dropped out of the top 25.

In addition, Dallas (1,279,910) edged past San Diego (1,279,329) to eighth place from ninth. San Francisco also moved up to 12th place; its population (808,976) surpassed Jacksonville (807,815).

And Austin (757,688) blew past Columbus (754,885) to 15th. Charlotte (687,456) leapfrogged Memphis (669,651) to 18th and El Paso (613,190) passed Boston (609,023) to 21st. To top of page

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