Monday’s NYPost.com headline reads “Days after Isaac, a quarter-million Gulf residents still in dark.”

CNN.com headlines alternate between “After Isaac, a warning — stay vigilant,” and, “Fifth death in Louisiana blamed on Isaac.”

And the list of gloomy headlines goes on. Contrary to headlines, New Orleans has not sunk into the Gulf. I started writing this post from New Orleans, after spending last weekend there with local friends who have power and who encouraged us not to cancel.

In the French Quarter there are barely signs of the storm, except for smaller than usual crowds, especially given that this weekend was “Southern Decadence” (basically Gay Mardi Gras). The crowds did increase each day in the afternoon and they were mostly very cheerful.

Equally cheerful were restaurant and business owners, who seemed very happy to be welcoming customers after watching the harrowing headlines they were seeing from across the nation.

Now, was there some damage? Of course. Our friends, who were flooded out of Katrina in the Lakeview District, kept their power. Some of their friends who lived nearby, however, did not; they are just getting it back today. And, cable and internet were off and on.

There were plenty of downed trees and a few parks where residents without power could get free water and ice. Some neighborhoods were still largely without power as of last night. But, a televised chart from the local energy company was turning greener (as in power on) from red (power off) by the hour.

Admittedly, some rural areas near New Orleans were hard hit. But anyone reading the Times Picayune (local paper) online would have noticed, besides the stories of storm cleanup, listings for restaurants that were open, sales and events still scheduled.

In the French Quarter, Warehouse District and downtown, most restaurants and shops we saw were open. Plus, there were minimum signs of Isaac. Even in city areas that had been harder hit with power losses, more and more establishments were opening during the two days we were visiting.

None of the national media played up any of the positives. So based on the sparser than usual crowds, even in tourist areas, it seems pretty clear that people were scared off.

As a stark example of the scaled-back tourism crowds, we were able to get last- minute reservations at Tomas Bistro, a trendy Creole-French restaurant. We also discovered the shortest line our friends had seen at Johnny’s Po-Boys, a very popular breakfast-lunch spot in the French Quarter.

I don’t blame people for not wanting to head into a disaster area, or feeling bad about being tourists when others are suffering. But, in this case, many people and business owners in the city would have been happier with more tourists and more dollars to help with the clean-up.

Certainly, it’s not a given that all cities would be in as good a shape shortly after a hurricane or other major event. But, before bailing out of your plans to visit potentially affected areas, wait before canceling.

For travelers who aren’t visiting friends or relatives, a local paper will have far more accurate information than the national media. Call the hotel where you have reservations; they will be able to provide better details.

In fact, calling the specific hotel is important (or for those who like to “wing it,” a hotel or two you might consider). You never know the full situation. This weekend in New Orleans most downtown and French Quarter hotels were in fine shape, but some suburban hotels had power and/or television/internet problems.

Travelers who really are nervous or uncomfortable in visiting a city that may have sustained damage from weather certainly are entitled to postpone a trip until another time. But if it’s just a question of “maybe it’s not appropriate” or “the locals won’t want to deal with out-of-towners,” do a little research. The biggest help you can provide may be your tourist dollars.

Photo: from Flickr Creative Commons by Will Morales