The number of people living in New Orleans has reached 300,000 for the first time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in August 2005, according to the latest population estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Orleans Parish had 311,000 residents as of July 1, 2008, up 8% from the 2007 estimate. The parish had 455,000 residents prior to Katrina.

However, Orleans Parish will challenge the estimated population, which a spokesman for Mayor Ray Nagin said is 24,000 below the local estimate.

The seven-parish metropolitan area had a total of 1.13 million residents, up slightly from the 1.1 million estimated in 2007 but still below the 1.3 million residents living in the region in July 2005.

The Census Bureau said 4.4 million people live in Louisiana, up from 4.2 million in July 2005.

The estimated population of 436,000 in Jefferson Parish, the state’s most populous, is down from the 2007 estimate of 440,000.

Jefferson officials said they will challenge the estimate. They believe the parish has at least 445,000 residents.

East Baton Rouge Parish is the second largest parish with an estimated population of 428,000. That is down slightly from 430,000 in 2006 but larger than the pre-Katrina population of 411,000.

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