Hurricane Gustav reached the US coast early Monday morning, and is reportedly just 110 km from New Orleans, heading northwest from the Louisiana coast. Two million residents living along the Gulf Coast have been asked to evacuate.
Hurricane Gustav has reduced in severity, moving from category 3 to 2 before it reached the US Gulf Coast by mid-morning local time. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) then downgraded it to category 1 in the early afternoon.
"It looks like the storm will not have a direct hit on New Orleans, it will hit about a hundred miles west of the city, close to Franklin in Cajun country", said FRANCE 24's correspondent Nathan King, reporting from New Orleans' French quarter.
Yet winds of up to 120km/h capable of causing widespread damage were still expected in the city. Moreover, the Gulf Mexico is not done with the hurricane season. NHC said on Monday that tropical storm Hanna reached hurricane force as it approached the Bahamas, while a fresh storm dubbed Ike has formed in the middle of the Atlantic.
In New Orleans, "all eyes are on the storm surge. Three years ago, with hurricane Katrina, it was 25 feet. We are now expecting between four and six feet ", King said. "The likelihood of a levee being broken or rivers bursting their banks is much less, therefore the threat to life won't be as much."
Although some flooding happened when waves splashed over the banks of the city's Industrial Canal, the authorities reported that pumps were coping with the volume of water.
New Orleans turned into a ghost town
The city of New Orleans turned into an eerily quiet “ghost town” following one of the largest evacuations in US history as Hurricane Gustav hurtled towards the southern US state of Louisiana Monday. Witnesses along the Louisiana coast described the torrential rains as “horizontal.” Officials warn tides could reach 4.2 metres.
Nearly two million Louisiana residents, many of whom witnessed Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005, have fled their homes as power outages were reported. Three previously ill people died during the evacuation.
"How New Orleans is affected depends on how the flood defences built after Katrina actually hold,” said FRANCE 24’s King. “At least 80% of the population has left the city, but tens of thousands have stayed back to take care of businesses and homes,” he added.
The outer edge of the storm killed at least 86 people across the Caribbean over the past few days.
Reporting from New Orleans, King said rains lashed the city early Monday. “We got some terrible rain,” he explained. “The skies went black – literally in seconds - and we had a downpour for about half-an-hour.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warned Gustav would be “a serious storm” and said that search and rescue efforts were already in full swing.
‘Boots on the ground, eyes on the ground’
Haunted by the chaotic post-Katrina aftermath, Louisiana authorities have deployed 750 National Guard troops on the ground in New Orleans for rescue efforts.
"We've got ... boots on the ground, eyes on the ground. So before that, even before we can get into the air, before we can get boats on the water, we do have people on the ground to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to save every single life," said Jindal.
On Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a sundown curfew in the city and warned against looting and crime, a major problem faced during Hurricane Katrina.
Forecasters expect Gustav to swamp parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas with up to 12 inches of rain and spin off isolated tornadoes.
Flights from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities were canceled on Monday amid the brewing storm.
The approaching hurricane also forced the shutdown of almost all oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, boosting world oil prices. Dozens of oil plants including the country’s two largest facilities, Exxon Mobil's Baytown, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana were forced to reduce processing rates.
Hurricane wrecks Republican convention plans
Hurricane Gustav spelt a bad start for the four-day Republican convention, which is due to start Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Most of the opening day convention activities and speeches were suspended.
Republican presumptive candidate John McCain and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are due to be nominated as the party’s nominees for November’s presidential poll.
On Sunday, McCain visited a hurricane command center. "I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated," McCain said by satellite from St. Louis after being briefed on storm preparations in the region.
US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also canceled their plans to attend the convention. Bush travelled to Austin, Texas to monitor the storm relief efforts and said: "The coordination on this storm is a lot better than during Katrina."
Date created : 2008-09-01