USA Today reports today on a poll of Gulf Coast evacuees by USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup.

How did they reach them? you might be asking. They took a database of 470,000 people from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who registered with the Red Cross for help after the storm. Half were reached by cell phone.

In all, the pollsters caught up with 1,510 of the scattered Gulf Coasters, and here are some of their findings:

* Almost 40% of New Orleans residents polled said they "definitely or probably" won't go back. USA Today notes that if you extrapolate this to all who have left the city, that means 50,000 may never return.

* Blacks are twice as likely as whites to say they won't return to NOLA.

* Half of folks from LA, MS and AL haven't gone back home. They are staying in hotels, renting temporary quarters or living with friends or relatives.

* Nearly four in 10 of those who had jobs before the storm are out of work.

* More than one in five still are separated from family members.

That last one shows just how big the challenges are for people getting their lives back together.

The poll overall is a helpful snapshot, although it just begs more questions. For example, would people be more interested in returning if the rebuilding process had gotten off to a better start, that there was more hope for something to come home to?

Hard to say, but at least one expert was clear about the impact of a permanent exodus:

"That would be unprecedented ... in the quickness of it, the bigness of it, and the fact that these people are very rooted" in New Orleans, says William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan. "You might be able to have a viable economy there, and tourism. But the pulse of that city would change dramatically."

In more ways than one.