Seven US deaths have been attributed to Gustav, which killed over 90 people as it raged through the Caribbean Photo: AP
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The storm forced out an estimated two million people, in possibly the largest exodus in US history, before it roared ashore amid the coastal villages of Louisiana's fragile Gulf coast as a category two hurricane with winds of 110 mph.
Gustav swerved to the west of New Orleans, sparing the low-lying city a repeat of the catastrophic devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. There were widespread power cuts - over 800,000 people across the state lost electricity - some flooding and damage to buildings but the levees held sufficiently to prevent the city from filling with water as before.
Ray Nagin, New Orleans' mayor who described Gustav as "the mother of all storms" as he ordered residents to leave, said the city would reopen "in days...not weeks". But officials still had to assess the extent of the damage and ensure the risk of serious flooding had subsided.
"Looks like we are not totally out of the woods, but we're getting close," he said at a news conference.
Last night, heavy rain continued to fall on New Orleans while the city remained under curfew as Gustav weakened to a tropical storm and headed west towards Texas.
Gustav came ashore around 9.30am on Monday near Cocodrie, 72 miles southwest of New Orleans, lashing the coastal terrain before inching inland, battering Houma to the north west and heading over New Iberia and Lafayette.
Some seven US deaths were attributed to Gustav, which killed over 90 people as it raged through the Caribbean. Some were due to traffic accidents although an elderly couple in Baton Route and a 27-year-old man in Lafayette died when trees fell on their homes. The figure was a stark contrast to Katrina, which claimed around 1,500 lives.
As the storm's tracked inland, it felled trees, snapped power lines and road signs and ripped up roofs.
Gustav, which quickly weakened over land to a category one hurricane, also brought blinding torrential rain. The 10 freeway that links New Orleans to Houston was almost deserted as the storm passed through. Petrol stations and roadside restaurants were boarded up, one spray painted with the message "Get lost Gustav", while affected communities resembled ghost towns but for the occasional police patrol.
Despite ferocious conditions that many described as "scary", most residents, both those who left and the ones who stayed behind, were breathing sighs of relief.
"It was pretty tough," said Curley Rogers, 80, who sat out the storm alone in Calcasieu, just south of Lake Charles, surrounded by boarded up homes. He had done the same in 2005 during hurricane Rita, which severely damaged both the region and his house. But this time he was prepared: with two generators and "a freezer full of meat".
"You could tell how strong the wind was because of the trees laying down," the retired deputy sheriff, former electrician and marine said last night. But my house is okay and I'm doing good. I've even still got power."
Many also praised the way officials had handled the potential disaster, organising evacuations and communicating information about the storm.
"I'm definitely very proud," said Pamela Lockett, 59, who left her home in Lydia, near the coast, for a hotel in Lafayette. "They stepped in and took charge and kept things moving forward. I wasn't about to stay. It's better to be safe than sorry."
It was nothing like the chaos of Katrina, she added, during which she lost her former home in east New Orleans.
But she did not know how her home in Lydia has fared. And in Lafayette, the hotel sign some 50 feet above the road, had come crashing to the ground damaging her car and scaring residents peeping out at the storm.
"That piece right there was coming after me," said Pam Bertrand, 50, another guest, indicating a broken shard of metal still twisting in the wind. "It almost came down and hit me, it was very scary." She had brought seven relatives from her home near the coast to the hotel to ride out the storm. "We thought it would be safer."
Other storm victims sought refuge in petrol stations. At one Shell station, staff members with about 20 friends and relatives hunkered down overnight.
Fears about widespread looting and unrest seemed largely unfounded. In New Orleans, police reported just one arrest. Meanwhile in Shreveport, where many evacuees had been taken, there were reports of fights at an overcrowded shelter as frustrated residents fought for news of when they would be allowed home.
Forecasters expected Gustav to weaken further to a tropical depression and have turned their attention to Hurricane Hanna, which could come ashore in Georgia and South Carolina late in the week.
i hurd they filled the harbor with some old newspapaers or something sounds like a gag i know! but its not really they actuly did that
they fixed only one side of the canal and it just pushed the water to the other side
BAD GURBA! ? wtf blaming me for this is not funny =/