CBSN

Weakened Gustav Swipes New Orleans

Water breaks over the I-wall along the industrial canal as Hurricane Gustav arrives in New Orleans, La., Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
More than three-quarters of a million people are without power in Louisiana, as Hurricane Gustav brought torrential rains and winds to a region still recovering three years after Katrina's devastating blow.

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.

Property Damage
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.