Gustav weakened to a Category 1 hurricane this afternoon after making landfall near Cocodrie, La., early Monday. A direct hit on flood-prone New Orleans was avoided, boosting hope that the city would avoid catastrophic flooding.
At 3:00 p.m. EDT the National Hurricane Center said the center of Gustav was about 35 miles southeast of Lafayette.
Six to 12 inches of rain is expected, with an extremely dangerous storm surge of 10 to 14 feet above normal tidal levels.
The storm's winds dropped to about 90 mph with higher gusts, as the storm moved northwest near 16 mph.
Entergy Spokesman Morgan Stewart told CBS Station WWL in New Orleans there are 752,000 customers across the state without power, and noted that due to the heavy winds, in the southern part of the state, there is scarcely a road without a downed tree or power line. Cleco Corp., which has 273,000 customers in the state, said the number of customers without power was at 50,000 and growing.
At a press conference early this afternoon, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pointed out that Gustav is bringing with it storm surges that may continue and even increase over the next several hours, so it may not be until midnight when the state can see how bad Gustav will get.
"The good news is that the storm is not slowing down; we expect it to decrease in intensity over the next 24 hours," he said.
A hurricane warning remains in effect from just east of High Island, Texas eastward to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. A tropical storm warning remains in effect from east of the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Ochlockonee River.
Loss Of Life
There has been one traffic fatality reported in Louisiana, a 57-year-old woman from Jefferson whose vehicle ran off I-10 eastbound and hit a tree.
In addition, a car carrying six passengers who were fleeing the storm from Marrero, La., a suburb just south of New Orleans, veered from Interstate 20 in west Georgia around 10 p.m. Sunday night and struck a tree. A Georgia State Patrol Trooper said the driver may have fallen asleep.
Four people were killed: 27-year-old Derek Bryant, 33-year-old Lynika Kennard, 2-year-old Derk Kennard and 45-year-old Gyrone Hudson.
Tornadoes may have been responsible for some of the damage caused throughout southern Louisiana. In Terrabone Parish, for one, the roofs were blown off many houses, and several mobile homes were destroyed.
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.
The extent of the damage in Cajun country was not immediately clear. State officials said that as of noon they had still not reached anyone at Port Fourchon, a vital hub for the energy industry where huge amounts of oil and gas are piped inland to refineries. Gustav's passed about 20 miles from the port and there are fears the damage there could be extensive.
Jindal said that 85 percent of gas stations in southern Louisiana have no in-ground fuel. Refineries (which have shut down) have only a three-day supply.
Jindal said, "I am officially calling on the president to release fuel from the strategic petroleum reserve. We know we're going to need this fuel by Thursday."
All Eyes On Industrial Canal
In New Orleans' Upper 9th Ward about half the streets closest to the Industrial Canal were flooded with ankle- to knee-deep water as the road dipped and rose.
But city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers said they expected the levees - still only partially rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina - would hold. The canal broke during Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, flooding St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward.
"We are seeing some overtopping waves," said Col. Jeff Bedey, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' hurricane protection office. "We are cautiously optimistic and confident that we won't see catastrophic wall failure."
The Corps shored up parts of the canal system to address stability issues that arose following a geotechnical analysis a couple of weeks ago. A secondary wall of large, sand-filled Hesco baskets was created as a buffer between the western side of the canal and the floodwall bordering the Gentilly Woods subdivision.
So far, as water poured over the edge of the canal, those bags have held.
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.
Hard Time In The Big Easy
In the city winds snapped large branches from the majestic oak trees that form a canopy over St. Charles Avenue. Winds have also caused a car port to collapse, toppling a vehicle.
But as a nervous nation watched to see if Gustav would deliver another Katrina-style hit on the partially-rebuilt city, officials steadfastly insisted three years of planning and infrastructure upgrades had prepared them for whatever was to come.
. Among that number: 23,000 people from New Orleans who sought help, who were moved by local and state government via bus, train and plane.
More than 63,000 displaced residents were housed in 324 shelters across eight states.
The massive effort was aimed at avoiding a terrible toll as was suffered in 2005 when nearly 1,600 people lost their lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"We don't expect the loss of life, certainly, that we saw in Katrina," Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Harvey E. Johnson told The Associated Press. "But we are expecting a lot of homes to be damaged, a lot of infrastructure to be flooded, and damaged severely."
On the high ground in the French Quarter, nasty winds whipped signs and the purple, green and gold Mardi Gras flags hanging from cast-iron balconies. Like the rest of the city, the Quarter's normally boisterous streets were deserted save for a police standing watch every few blocks and a few early-morning drinkers in the city's famous bars.
"We wanted to be part of a historic event," said Benton Love, 30, stood outside Johnny White's Sports Bar with a whiskey and Diet Coke. "We knew Johnny White's would be the place to be. We'll probably switch to water about 10 o'clock, sober up, and see if we can help out."
Those who heeded the days of warnings to get out watched from shelters and hotel rooms hundreds of miles away, praying the powerful storm and its 110-mph winds would pass without the same deadly toll.
"We're nervous, but we just have to keep trusting in God that we don't get the water again," said Lyndon Guidry, who hit the road for Florida just a few months after he was able to return to his home in New Orleans. "We just have to put our faith in God."
Residents for the most part heeded officials' pleas to flee. Reports are that there are as few as 10,000 people left in New Orleans itself - far fewer than were crammed into the Superdome three years ago - and only 100,000 along southern Louisiana.
The good news: The storm was downgraded as it makes landfall.
FEMA Deputy Director Harvey E. Johnson says while the eye of the storm was expected to pass west of New Orleans, its surge could overtop levees and at least partially flood the city that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Officials were anxiously watching to see what kind of storm surge the city could face: If forecasts hold, the city could experience a storm surge of only 4 to 6 feet, compared to a surge of 10 to 14 feet at the site of landfall, said Corey Walton, a hurricane support meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.
Katrina, by comparison, brought a storm surge of 25 feet, causing levees to break. While the Army Corps of Engineers has shored up some of the city's levee system since then, fears this time center on the city's West Bank, where levee repairs have not been completed.
And Then There's Hanna …
, closing the airport and schools and clearing the streets. Forecasters warned that it could strike the U.S. mainland.