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Gustav Hits Louisiana As Category 2 Hurricane

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Hurricane Gustav slammed into the heart of
Louisiana's fishing and oil industry with 110 mph winds Monday,
delivering only a glancing blow to New Orleans that raised hopes
the city would escape the kind of catastrophic flooding brought by
Katrina three years ago.
That did not mean the state survived the storm without damage. A
levee in the southeast part of the state was on the verge of
collapse, and officials scrambled to fortify it. Roofs were torn
from homes, trees toppled and roads flooded. More than 1 million
customers were without power.
The nearly 2 million people who left coastal Louisiana on a
mandatory evacuation order watched TV coverage from shelters and
hotel rooms hundreds of miles away, many of them wondering what
kind of damage they would find when they were allowed to come back
home.
Keith Cologne of Chauvin, La., looked dejected after talking by
telephone to a friend who didn't evacuate. "They said it's bad,
real bad. There are roofs lying all over. It's all gone," said
Cologne, staying at a hotel in Orange Beach, Ala.
But the biggest fear - that the levees surrounding the
saucer-shaped city of New Orleans would break and flood all over
again - hadn't been realized. Wind-driven water sloshed over the
top of the Industrial Canal's floodwall, but city officials and the
Army Corps of Engineers said they expected the levees, still only
partially rebuilt after Katrina, would hold.
Flood protections along the canal broke with disastrous effect
during Katrina, submerging St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth
Ward.
"We are seeing some overtopping waves," said Col. Jeff Bedey,
commander of the Corps' hurricane protection office. "We are
cautiously optimistic and confident that we won't see catastrophic
wall failure."
In the Upper Ninth Ward, about half the streets closest to the
canal were flooded with ankle- to knee-deep water as the road
dipped and rose. Of more immediate concern to authorities were two
small vessels that broke loose from their moorings in the canal and
were resting against the Florida Street wharf.
The rain had stopped by mid afternoon Monday in the French
Quarter, the highest point in the city. The wind was breezy but not
fierce, and some of the approximately 10,000 people who chose to
defy warnings and stay behind began to emerge. But knowing that the
levees surrounding the city could still be pressured by rising
waters, no one was celebrating just yet.
"I don't think we're out of the woods. We still have to worry
about the water," said Gerald Boulmay, 61, a St. Louis Hotel
worker and lifelong New Orleans resident.
One community in southeast Louisiana was fearful their levee
wouldn't hold. As many as 300 homes in Plaquemines Parish were
threatened, and the parish president called a television station to
issue an urgent plea to any residents who were left to flee to the
Mississippi River, where officials would evacuate them.
"It's overtopping. There's a possibility it's going to be
compromised," said Phil Truxillo, a Plaquemines emergency
official.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gustav hit around
9:30 a.m. near Cocodrie (pronounced ko-ko-DREE), a low-lying
community in Louisiana's Cajun country 72 miles southwest of New
Orleans, as a Category 2 storm on a scale of 1 to 5. The storm
weakened to a Category 1 later in the afternoon. Forecasters feared
the storm would arrive as a devastating Category 4.
As of noon, the extent of the damage in Cajun country was not
immediately clear. State officials said they had still not reached
anyone at Port Fourchon, a vital hub for the energy industry where
huge amounts of oil and gas are piped inland to refineries. The eye
of Gustav passed about 20 miles from the port and there were fears
the damage there could be extensive.
The storm could prove devastating to the region of fishing
villages and oil-and-gas towns. For most of the past half century,
the bayou communities have watched their land disappear at one of
the highest rates of erosion in the world. A combination of factors
- oil drilling, hurricanes, levees, dams - have destroyed the
swamps and left the area with virtually no natural buffer against
storms.
Damage to refineries and production platforms could cause
gasoline prices at the pump to spike. The Gulf Coast is home to
nearly half the nation's refining capacity, while offshore the Gulf
accounts for about 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15
percent of natural gas output. But oil prices actually tumbled to
$111 a barrel as the storm weakened.
The nation was nervously watching to see how New Orleans would
deal with Gustav almost exactly three years after Katrina flooded
80 percent of the city and killed roughly 1,600 people. Federal,
state and local officials took a never-again stance after Katrina
and set to work planning and upgrading flood defenses in the
below-sea-level city.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had cartons of food,
water, blankets and other supplies to sustain 1 million people for
three days ready to be distributed Monday - a contrast to Katrina,
when thousands waited for rescue in a hot Superdome.
"With Katrina they didn't come and rescue us until the next
day," said LaTriste Washington, 32, who stayed in her home during
the 2005 hurricane and later was rescued by boat. She was in a
shelter in Birmingham, Ala., Monday. "This time they were ready
and had buses lined up for us to leave New Orleans."
President Bush, who skipped the Republican convention to monitor
the storm from Texas, applauded the preparation and response
efforts.
"The coordination on this storm is a lot better than on - than
during Katrina," Bush said noting how the governors of Alabama,
Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had been working in concert. "It
was clearly a spirit of sharing assets, of listening to somebody's
problems and saying, `How can we best address them?"'
Meanwhile, Republicans hurried to turn the opening day of the
convention into a fundraising drive for hurricane victims.
Presidential candidate John McCain's wife and first lady Laura Bush
were expected to address the shortened session and appeal for Gulf
Coast help.
Both Republicans meeting in St. Paul and the campaign of
Democratic nominee Barack Obama asked supporters to send a text
message to a five-digit code that would make a donation to the Red
Cross to help victims of the hurricane.
For all their apparent similarities, Hurricanes Gustav and
Katrina were different in one critical respect: Katrina smashed the
Gulf Coast with an epic storm surge that topped 27 feet, a far
higher wall of water than Gustav hauled ashore.
Katrina was a bigger storm when it came ashore in August 2005 as
a Category 3 storm and it made a direct hit on the
Louisiana-Mississippi line. Gustav skirted along Louisiana's
shoreline at "a more gentle angle," said National Weather Service
storm surge specialist Will Shaffer.
Mayor Ray Nagin's emergency preparedness director, Lt. Col.
Jerry Sneed, said residents might be allowed to return 24 hours
after the tropical storm-force winds die down.
Other evacuated areas along the coast may be away from home for
longer, said National Hurricane Center director Bill Read. The
hurricane will likely slow down as it heads into Texas and possibly
Arkansas, and those areas could then get 20 inches of rainfall.
Authorities reported seven deaths related to the storm,
including four people fleeing the storm who were killed in Georgia
when their car struck a tree. A couple in their 70s died when a
tree struck their relatives' home in Baton Rouge. Another woman
died in an accident driving between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Before arriving in the U.S., Gustav was blamed for at least 94
deaths in the Caribbean.
In Mississippi, officials said a 15-foot storm surge flooded
homes and inundated the only highways to coastal towns devastated
by Katrina. Officials said at least three people near the Jordan
River had to be rescued from the floodwaters. Elsewhere in the
state, an abandoned building in Gulfport collapsed and a few homes
in Biloxi were flooded.
The ground floor of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Biloxi's
casino row was flooded during the storm surge from Gustav.
Hurricane Katrina smashed the casino three years ago shortly before
it was to open.
Bobby Tuber, the casino's facility-grounds manager, said the
storm put about 30 inches of water in the building but the casino
itself, located on an upper level, and was not damaged.
"We're fine. We'll come out all well," Tuber said as he and
others used a pump and a large hose to remove the water.
Gustav was the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane
season. The eighth grew into Hurricane Hanna Monday, followed
quickly by the formation of Tropical Storm Ike a few hours later.
Forecasters said it could come ashore in Georgia and South Carolina
late in the week.
---
Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer, Janet McConnaughey,
Robert Tanner, Cain Burdeau, Alan Sayre, and Allen G. Breed
contributed to this report from New Orleans. Vicki Smith in Boutte
and Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge also contributed. Michael Kunzelman
reported from Lafayette, Jay Reeves reported from Orange Beach, La.
and Holbrook Mohr contributed from Gulfport, Miss. Juanita Cousins
reported from Birmingham, Ala.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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