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Hurricane Gustav Batters Louisiana Coast

By David Batty

Hurricane Gustav has reached Louisiana, battering the coast with high winds and torrential rain. The storm hit land near the town of Cocodrie, the heart of Louisiana’s fishing and oil industry, just before 10am local time (4pm BST), the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Before it reached the coast, it was weakened to a category two hurricane, a storm with winds of 95-110 mph, which can generate a storm surge of around two to three metres.

Floodwaters have been lapping over the top of levees, but there are no reported breaches.

The deputy director of the federal emergency management agency, Harvey Johnson, said the eye of the storm was expected to pass west of New Orleans.

Officials have been preparing for at least a partial flood of the city.

Johnson said an estimated 2 million people have been evacuated from Louisiana, though as many as 10,000 remain in the New Orleans area.

Tropical storm force winds and torrential rain brought on by Gustav, dubbed the “storm of the century“, hit the US Gulf coast this morning.


Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005 as a strong category three storm, creating a storm surge of 7.6 metres, which broke through the levees protecting the city.

Although the army has shored up some of the levees since then, fears this time centre on the city’s west bank, where levee repairs have not been completed.

Thousands of troops, rescue workers and volunteers have been deployed in Louisiana and neighbouring Gulf of Mexico states after what has been called the biggest evacuation in US history.

Gustav has already killed at least 94 people in the Caribbean. The hurricane’s arrival in the US comes days after the third anniversary of Katrina, which left more than 1,600 dead and caused $30bn (£16.5bn) in damage.

Mindful of the government’s inept response to Katrina, the president, George Bush, has gone to Texas, where emergency response personnel have been preparing for the incoming storm.

The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, praised the deployment. “It’s amazing. It makes me feel really good that so many people are saying, ‘We as Americans, we as the world, have to get this right this time,“’ he said. “We cannot afford to screw up again.”

“I feel a little nervous about the storm and exactly where it’s going to end up, but I also feel good about the resources. Man, if we have resources, we can move mountains.”

The storm will test three years of planning and rebuilding that followed Katrina’s devastation.

US officials have moved beyond merely insisting tourists and residents leave south Louisiana. They threatened to jail looters, loaded thousands of people on to buses and warned that anyone who remained behind would not be rescued.

Hundreds of police and national guardsmen are patrolling the city’s empty streets to deter looters and take action if a major rescue operation is required.

The homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said search and rescue would be the top priority once the storm passed. He said high-water vehicles, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, coastguard boats and a navy ship had been posted around the strike zone.

The storm forced the Republican party to cancel most of the programme for the first day of its four-day convention, which had been scheduled to begin today in Minneapolis-St Paul. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney cancelled plans to speak at the convention tonight

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