At least 8 dead, huge floods and houses flattened... but this is what counts as a lucky escape for New Orleans after Gustav

Posted on 10:13 AM by Sameer Shah

At least eight people were killed, houses razed and vast stretches of land flooded - but New Orleans was today still counting itself lucky after Hurricane Gustav roared ashore.

There had been fears of catastrophic damage and loss of life, a repeat of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina just three years ago.

Some two million residents had evacuated the region, leaving the city a ghost town but in fact Gustav eventually stormed the U.S. 85 miles to the west.

New Orleans breathed a sigh of relief as it received only a glancing blow that did little more than send water sloshing harmlessly over its rebuilt floodwalls.

The all-important levees surrounding the city held against storm surges whipped up by 100mph winds. It was their first test since Katrina, and they passed it easily.

Gustav first crashed ashore as a Category 2 hurricane with 110mph winds but by last night it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with winds of around 60mph.

It was hoped New Orleans could be open for business again within days. Mayor Ray Nagin said residents' homecoming was 'only days away, not weeks'.

'I was hoping that this would happen, that we would be able to stand before America, before everyone, and say that we had some success with the levee system. I feel really good about it,' he said.

A mandatory evacuation order and curfew remained in place today and nearly 80,000 homes were still without power after the storm damaged power lines and put 35 sub-stations out of service.

The city's sewer system was also damaged and hospitals were having to work with skeleton crews on backup power.

Drinking water, however, had not been disrupted with the pumps that keep it dry never shutting down - two critical service failings that contributed to Katrina's death toll.

Emergency crews were today combing the city to review the full extent of the damage but it is hoped residents will be able to return later this week.

Mayor Nagin, who had earlier warned Gustav could be the 'storm of the century', said: 'I would not do a thing differently.

'I'd probably call Gustav, instead of the mother of all storms, maybe the mother-in-law or the ugly sister of all storms.'

Despite the sense of relief, the state had still not come through the storm unscathed. Officials had to scramble to shore up a levee in the south-eastern part of Louisiana.

Roofs were also torn from houses, trees were ripped up and roads flooded as Gustav roared through the region.

A ferry was sunk and more than one million homes in total were left without power. The extent of any damage to the oil and gas industry is still unclear.

Although the loss of life was tiny in comparison to Katrina, authorities had still reported eight deaths by early today.

Four were killed in Georgia when their car struck a tree as they tried to flee the storm and three people were killed by falling trees in Louisiana.

Gustav has already been blamed for almost 100 deaths in the Caribbean as it made its way to the American mainland.

The biggest fear, however, that the levees surrounding New Orleans would be breached again, was not realised.

Wind-driven water sloshed over the top of the Industrial Canal's floodwall - the same structure that broke with disastrous consequences during Katrina.

Several Ninth Ward streets close by were flooded with water up to knee height but city officials and engineers remained confident the flood defences were holding.

Gustav blew ashore at around 9.30am near Cocodrie, a low-lying community 72 miles south west of New Orleans.

Forecasters had feared a catastrophic Category 4 storm - the second highest rating - but it weakened as it drew close to land, reaching Category 1 as it headed for Texas.

By late last night, it was only lumbering northwest at around 13mph and the flooding was expected to carry on falling back.

More than two million Americans had fled the Gulf Coast ahead of the storm in the largest evacuation in U.S. history.

New Orleans resembled a ghost town under darkening skies yesterday as it approached, with the only people on the streets were police and the National Guard.

Tens of thousands had heeded the apocalyptic warning from their city mayor to flee rather than take the risk of staying behind, as many did for Katrina.

'It was absolutely the right message to send,' Mr Nagin insisted, despite the storm proving to be weaker than predicted.

Just a handful of remaining citizens had hidden in their homes as they braced themselves for the hurricane.

Officials, acutely aware of the political damage to the Bush administration and local politicians after Katrina, were determined not to make the same mistakes.

Taking no chances, their planning for search and rescue and clean-up operations was advanced. Mr Nagin said: 'We cannot afford to screw up again.'

Officials had ordered everyone to leave, threatened arrest for those that stayed and said looters would be shot.

Louisiana and Mississippi state authorities changed traffic flow so all highway lanes led away from the coast, and cars were packed bumper-to-bumper heading north.

Jerry Williams, a painter trying to catch one of the last buses out of town, had said: 'You're torn. Do you leave it and worry about it, or do you stay and worry about living?'

British officials in Houston had warned any UK citizens to leave the area and offered any help needed.

Warwick University chemistry student, Martin Levere, 25, of Coventry, managed to get on a plane at two hours' notice.

'On the way out to the airport we saw many tourists preparing to abandon the city,' he said. 'I was glad I hadn't chosen to wait until things got really competitive.'

On Sunday, Mr Nagin had spoken in apocalyptic terms about the hurricane's impact, branding it ' the storm of the century.'

'Tonight you need to be scared; you need to get your butts out of New Orleans now,' he said. 'This is the mother of all storms... the storm of the century. I am not sure we have seen anything like it.

'For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: That will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.

'Anyone who decides to stay, I'll say it like I said it before Katrina: Make sure you have an axe, because you will be carving your way, or busting your way out of your attic to get on your roof with waters that you will be surrounded with in this event.

'There is not a building in this city I know of that is wind rated above 150mph. This is the real deal. This is not a test.'

No Response to "At least 8 dead, huge floods and houses flattened... but this is what counts as a lucky escape for New Orleans after Gustav"