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New Orleans Takes Measures Against Hurricane Gustav

September 1, 2008 at 6:05 PM EDT
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Three years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, the city's residents have once again evacuated as Hurricane Gustav hit the coast Monday. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden reports from New Orleans.
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TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour correspondent: Gustav bore down on the Louisiana and Texas coast as a Category 2 storm, with winds of more than 100 miles an hour. It hit three years and three days after Hurricane Katrina.

The storm’s eye made landfall this morning west of New Orleans after weakening overnight. Still, within hours, water was sloshing over floodwalls in the Industrial Canal near the Ninth Ward. That structure breached after Katrina.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers said they were cautiously optimistic that the city’s levees would hold.

The winds have been gusting pretty strongly since dawn. The rain comes and goes. At the moment, though, it looks like the city has been spared any serious damage. Of course, that’s what everybody thought immediately after Hurricane Katrina, and then the levees broke.

Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed heads the city’s department of homeland security. He said the danger isn’t completely over yet.

LT. COL. JERRY SNEED, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness: We have to get it past us before we can assess what’s going on. Currently, it looks like very, very little damage. At present, I’m told about 50 percent of power is out in the city, but it seems like that’s about it, no flooding, no levee breaks. Everything seems to be working out. But we’ve got to get it past us.

TOM BEARDEN: We rode the storm out in the New Orleans neighborhood of Audubon Park near Tulane University.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I know of two families. Everybody else has left.

TOM BEARDEN: Bill Ryan was one of the few holdouts here.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: It’s remarkable, because there were so many more people here during Katrina.

TOM BEARDEN: As Gustav was hitting, Ryan made the rounds checking on the homes of his neighbors who had evacuated.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: In Katrina, this whole thing was down. So I guess we’re fortunate that we’ve only lost two parts of it.

TOM BEARDEN: He also weathered Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

So you feeling like maybe New Orleans has dodged a bullet?

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: We know we’ve dodged a bullet. The question is, we were worried about a bomb.

Officials led response effort

TOM BEARDEN: President Bush traveled to Texas to monitor the storm from an emergency operations center in Austin, about 400 miles west of where the storm hit the Louisiana coast.

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: Texas has evacuated 10,000 of our special needs citizens.

TOM BEARDEN: He was briefed by officials, and lauded the unprecedented cooperation among agencies, and thanked the evacuees directly.

GEORGE W. BUSH, president of the United States: It's hard for a citizen to pull up stakes and move out of their home and face the uncertainty that comes when you're not at home. And I want to thank those citizens who listened carefully to the local authorities and evacuated. And I want to thank my fellow citizens in Texas and in other states for welcoming these folks with open arms.

The state of Texas is a generous state. And it's very important for those who've been evacuated to listen very carefully to the officials in their respective states before they decide to return.

The storm is yet to pass. It's -- you know, it's a serious event. And as the governor mentioned, the people of east Texas, you know, have got to be prepared for a possible flooding event.

TOM BEARDEN: Mr. Bush declared states of emergency in four states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. About 2,700 national guardsmen are now in New Orleans. Louisiana's governor has requested 16,000 extra soldiers to help with the recovery.

Nearly 100 people died when Gustav tore through the Caribbean. In New Orleans, three people died before the storm hit when hospitals were evacuated.

Mindful of Katrina's impact, residents up and down the Gulf Coast have been preparing for Gustav for days.

RAY NAGIN, mayor of New Orleans: This is the mother of all storms.

TOM BEARDEN: Local officials in and around New Orleans warned residents ordering mandatory evacuations.

RAY NAGIN: You need to be scared. You need to be concerned. And you need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans right now. This is the storm of the century.

TOM BEARDEN: Two million people fled southern Louisiana by plane, bus and car. Tens of thousands more left coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and southeastern Texas.

GULF COAST RESIDENT: All I want is shelter, food, and water. I just want to -- I have not slept in 24 hours since we left New Orleans.

GULF COAST RESIDENT: I wasn't going to leave. And I said, "We need to get out of here, because we don't know what's going to happen."

TOM BEARDEN: Roads out of the city turned one-way yesterday, away from the coast. Ninety-five percent of New Orleans' residents left, inching out of the Crescent City in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the largest evacuation in state history.

New Orleans, hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, is still struggling to recover. The last of Katrina's unidentified victims were buried last Friday. Some 1,600 people died in the hurricane's aftermath which flooded 80 percent of the city.

Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 1 storm, will pass over east Texas, where it's expected to drop heavy rains.