"A reprieve for New Orleans; Levees hold as hurricane batters city" by Keith O'Brien and Stephen Smith, Globe Staff | September 2, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - Hurricane Gustav, reviving anxieties left behind by Hurricane Katrina, washed ashore yesterday morning, ripping shrimp boats from their moorings on the coast, flooding small fishing villages, and pushing white-capped water to the brink of one 12-foot floodwall in New Orleans.
But the floodwall - and the city's other levees - stood up to the Category 2 storm. New Orleans, as of late last night, had suffered no flooding, much less the catastrophic blows delivered by Katrina three years ago. And while other communities were less fortunate - water briefly overtopped a levee in Plaquemines Parish and storm surges swamped at least one low-lying town, Grand Isle - New Orleans officials were happy to dodge the worst of the storm.
Gustav, a killer storm that had been stalking the Louisiana coast for days, made landfall early yesterday morning, with the eye of the storm crossing over Cocodrie, about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, around 11 a.m. The storm, despite weakening just before landfall, was still packing 110-mile-per-hour winds and 12-foot storm surges in places. According to the National Weather Service, Gustav unleashed hurricane-force winds across the region, including Baton Rouge, and knocked out power to roughly a half-million homes before noon.
Officials in Louisiana confirmed at least seven storm-related deaths, including one motorist who died in an accident on Interstate 10 yesterday morning, a couple in their 70s who were killed when their relatives' house was struck by a falling tree, and three elderly patients died during evacuations over the weekend as the hurricane approached. Among those who were heading to the region to help were 800 Massachusetts National Guardsmen being deployed today and tomorrow.
Others, meanwhile, were already lining up to come home. Late yesterday, Veronica Pearson drove through Houma forlorn, uncertain of the fate of her mobile home in Bayou Blue, just up the road, and desperately wanting to return. But when she was almost home, a Terrebonne Parish sheriff's deputy stopped her and told her to turn around.
"Dang," she said, frustrated. "They won't let us go back."
Such frustration is likely to be felt across the state, including New Orleans, in the days ahead. Officials will decide parish by parish when residents can return. Nagin announced last night that only essential city personnel and utility workers would be permitted to return today, followed by major companies and retailers tomorrow.
Regular citizens, he said, would be "stopped and turned around" at the city limits, if they attempt to enter until the mandatory evacuation order is lifted. And while waiting can be frustrating, he acknowledged, New Orleans city officials said that evacuating the city was a success. New Orleans police Superintendent Warren Riley said authorities only had to make two arrests during the storm: one for looting and one for stealing gasoline.
The "curfew is still in effect," Riley announced late last night. "Curfew is an absolute must to curtail looting."