NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A woman waters her mint plants outside her house. A man rides his bicycle on a levee. A newspaper truck lumbers down the road, the passenger handing out papers.

In this battered, flooded city, a few signs of normalcy have flickered defiantly in recent days.

While the bodies of their fellow citizens are being removed and counted, while the monumental task of draining, cleaning and rebuilding looms, some residents are starting to reclaim a sliver of their pre-hurricane lives.

Their homes may be damaged, but they’re dry – spared by quirks of geography from the flooding that devastated huge chunks of the city.

So, as soldiers and police have tried to convince people living on flooded streets to comply with an evacuation order, the luckier residents have quietly been allowed to go about their lives.

And they have.

“I think you have to do the things that give you strength to get through this,” said Frank Rosinia, an anesthesiologist perspiring as he rode a racing bicycle. He’s been working at a hospital since Hurricane Katrina hit.

What was important to those who remained in their homes or ventured out was routine, the kind they followed before the hurricane, the kind many didn’t pay much attention to until it was threatened.

“We are basically doing all our routine chores with the exception of maintaining our yards,” said Johnie Bradley, 62, as he sat in front of his house with a boom box perched on his knees. His home is in the Algiers district, across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter; neither area was flooded.

Authorities estimate there are thousands who have stayed in their homes, particularly in areas that weren’t flooded when the levees breached and sent water cascading into most of the bowl-shaped city.

But for some of the remaining residents, life has become a desperate act of holding onto what little they have, inside homes that are flooded or surrounded by water. Their struggle is not about routine, but about hanging on and fighting off mosquitoes, hunger and thirst in hopes they can hold out until the water recedes and services such as electricity and running water return.

Excpet for military and emergency vehicles, and trucks carrying work crews, the streets are empty of traffic and nearly empty of pedestrians. Blocks of restaurants, stores and other businesses remain dark.

At night, most of those who have stayed hunker down indoors. A few have clung to another routine, hanging out at a neighborhood bar that now serves its beer warm. On one recent night, a dozen or so in the French Quarter gathered at a darkened bar, lit only by tall prayer candles, a radio blaring out some scratchy tunes.

In the daylight, about a dozen men were hired to clean sidewalks in the French Quarter under a blaring sun. The sprucing up had begun, with the floodwater stench wafting through the narrow streets a reminder of the disaster.

For Ray Menard, the evacuation offered a chance for one of his favorite activities: reading in peace.

“You don’t have to put up with the screaming masses,” said Menard, 77, as he sat outside his apartment near Lee Circle. He alternated between reading the paper and a favorite book, “The Art of Doing Nothing.”

“It’s a delightful book,” he said.

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