10-25-2016  5:04 am      •     
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A weakened Hurricane Gustav slammed into the heart of Louisiana's fishing and oil industry with 110 mph winds Monday, delivering only a glancing blow to New Orleans that raised hopes the city would escape the kind of catastrophic flooding brought by Katrina three years ago.
Wind-driven water sloshed over the top of the Industrial Canal's floodwall, but city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers said they expected the levees, still only partially rebuilt after Katrina, would hold. The canal broke with disastrous effect during Katrina, submerging St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward -- an impoverished neighborhood particularly ravaged by that storm.
``We are seeing some overtopping waves,'' said Col. Jeff Bedey, commander of the Corps' hurricane protection office. ``We are cautiously optimistic and confident that we won't see catastrophic wall failure.''
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gustav hit around 9:30 a.m. near Cocodrie, a low-lying community in Louisiana's Cajun country 72 miles southwest of New Orleans, as a Category 2 storm on a scale of 1 to 5. Forecasters had feared the storm would arrive as a devastating Category 4.
Katrina, which hit as a Category 3, left about 1,600 dead in the U.S. Gulf Coast and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.
Mindful of the harsh criticism his administration endured for its botched handling of Katrina, President George W. Bush was in Texas on Monday, after canceling a speech at a much toned-down opening day for Republican National Convention, to check on preparations and plans for Gustav. He said this time, coordination has been much better.
In New Orleans' Upper 9th Ward about half the streets closest to the canal were flooded with ankle- to knee-deep water as the road dipped and rose. Of more immediate concern to authorities were two small vessels that broke loose from their moorings in the canal and were resting against a wharf. There were no immediate reports of any damage to the canal.
Mayor Ray Nagin said the city will not know until late afternoon if the vulnerable West Bank would stay dry. Worries about the level of flood protection in an area where enhancements to the levees are years from completion was a key reason Nagin was so insistent residents evacuate the city.
Only one storm-related death, involving a woman killed in a car wreck, was reported in Louisiana. In its rampage through the Caribbean, Gustav was blamed for at least 94 deaths in the Caribbean as it made its way toward the Gulf Coast.
Still, the storm could prove devastating to the region of fishing villages and oil-and-gas towns where a combination of factors have left the area with virtually no natural buffer against storms. Also, damage to refineries and drilling platforms could disrupt production, driving up gasoline prices.
With Katrina's devastation still tangible three years after it hit, officials were taking no chances and had urged residents to leave.
This time, nearly 2 million people fled the coast, many of them under a mandatory evacuation order issued by Nagin. Federal, state and local officials took a never-again stance after Katrina and set to work planning and upgrading flood defenses in the below-sea-level city.
For all their seeming similarities, Hurricanes Gustav and Katrina were different in one critical respect: Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast with an epic storm surge that topped 27 feet, a far higher wall of water than Gustav hauled ashore.
Still, Nagin urged everyone to ``resist the temptation to say we're out of the woods,'' noting that heavy rainfall could still flood the city over the next 24 hours as tropical storm-force winds blast through the city. Winds were 36 mph (58 kph) near City Hall on Monday morning, with higher gusts.
Nagin's emergency preparedness director, Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, said residents might be allowed to return 24 hours after tropical storm-force winds die down. The city would first need to assess damage and determine if any neighborhoods were unsafe.
About 500,000 customers in south Louisiana were without power at midday, but officials in New Orleans said backup generators were keeping city drainage pumps in service.
Public officials warned in the days leading up to the storm that anyone leaving their homes after a dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed would be thrown in jail.
Harmonica player J.D. Hill said he was standing in line Monday morning to get into a public shelter in Bossier City in northwestern Louisiana after waiting on a state-provided evacuation bus that carried him to safety.
He described a frustrating scene outside the shelter, where elderly evacuees and young children had to wait to be searched and processed before going inside.
``There's the funky bus bathrooms, people can't sleep, we're not being told anything. We're at their mercy,'' he said.
In Mississippi, officials said a 15-foot storm surge flooded homes and inundated the only highways to coastal towns devastated by Katrina. Officials said at least three people near the Jordan River had to be rescued

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