New Orleans levees hold as Gustav winds down
New Orleans, September 2, 2008
Hurricane Gustav weakened to a tropical storm after crashing into the Louisiana coast and menacing New Orleans, where rebuilt levees managed to hold floodwaters out of the city.
Gustav weakened before hitting land, easing fears it would be another Katrina, whose floodwaters burst protective levees in 2005, swamping 80 percent of New Orleans and stranding thousands.
Gustav's powerful storm surge pushed tons of water into the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans canals, putting pressure on barriers that were repaired or reconstructed after failing three years ago and prompting a tense watch for signs it would happen again.
The US Army Corps of Engineers closed massive new floodgates intended to keep Lake Pontchartrain waters from surging back into the city and over the banks of two canals.
Water flowed over flood walls and spurted through cracks, but a barrier system which officials had warned left New Orleans vulnerable appeared to hold up as of late Monday.
Six inches (15 cm) of water pooled in streets near the New Orleans Industrial Canal, but new cement-girded floodwalls protecting the city's Ninth Ward held off the a repeat of the flooding that devastated that neighborhood during Katrina.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said residents could begin to return to the city later this week. With the city still under curfew, officials will assess hurricane damage on Tuesday and begin allowing businesses to return as soon as Wednesday.
'Reentry is only days away and not weeks away,' Nagin said. Some residents emerged from boarded up homes relieved to find only broken tree branches and toppled signs.
'We'll still get some nasty weather but we've dodged a big-time bullet with this one,' said stockbroker Peter Labouisse, sitting on the porch of his home, which was shuttered and without power.
Louisiana officials reported six storm-related deaths, including an elderly couple in Baton Rouge who were killed when a tree fell on their home.
In contrast to the widespread lawlessness that followed after Katrina, New Orleans police said they had only arrested two people for looting during the storm.
Mindful of the ravages of Katrina, which killed some 1,500 people, nearly 2 million people fled the Gulf Coast as Gustav approached and only 10,000 were believed to have remained in New Orleans.
More than 14,000 National Guard troops and pilots were deployed to the Gulf Coast and the Pentagon authorized up to 50,000 troops. Soldiers are routinely deployed in US disasters for rescue and clean-up and to prevent looting.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned residents it was too early to sound the all-clear. - Reuters