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How New Orleans weathered Gustav

From levee-buttressing heroics to beefed-up security, the Crescent City charts a post-hurricane course.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 3, 2008

Phillip Turner, who’s lived in New Orleans for 65 years, swept the streets in the French Quarter after Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor


New Orleans

New Orleanians and the world held their collective breath Monday as hurricane Gustav huffed and puffed but ultimately failed to blow this old port town down.

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As a meteorological monster, hurricane Gustav was no hurricane Katrina, coming ashore as a Category 2 hurricane, compared with Katrina's Category 3 winds, and veering far enough west to do little but break tree limbs and fling a few truck-bed liners around New Orleans.

"The levees held, the levees held," New Orleans City Councilor Cynthia Willard-Lewis breathily reported. "Our spirit is unshaken."

Gustav's diminished strength and the much-ballyhooed improved cooperation among state, local, and federal officials certainly had a role in the city's survival. But the real keys were the up-armored levee system, a small task force of National Guard soldiers, heroic actions on storm-whipped levees, and, ultimately, a shift in Gulf Coast residents' view of their precarious perch on the Gulf.

"This was a good way for us to test ourselves a little bit," says healthcare worker Macon Moore, walking his dog, Rocky, in the mostly unscathed Garden District.

Even worries about Gulf oil rigs and refineries subsided, with the price of a barrel of sweet crude dropping $4 Monday. Although 1,836 people died as a result of Katrina, at time of writing seven were reported to have perished in Gustav, including a family of evacuees escaping to Atlanta.

Though it didn't turn out to the "mother of all storms" that Mayor Ray Nagin had predicted, Gustav still packed a wallop. Bayou communities on the west shore of Lake Pontchartrain were submerged nearly to rooftops, as the canal between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas to the west spread into a vast expanse of angry and storm-chopped sea.

In the bayou burg of Morgan City, La., which took the brunt of Gustav's landfall, the Atchafalaya storm gates on Front Street creaked but held back the water. "Everyone's fine," reported dispatcher Allison Ganawey. "But it's been a little busy around here."

In Lafitte, La., Mayor Tim Kerner joined volunteer crews to lay water-filled rubber levees to hold back the waters. In Slidell, La., the Palm Lake neighborhood flooded under Gustav's five-foot storm surge, and some residents were evacuated by boat. Local authorities and volunteers worked throughout the night to shore up a levee near Belle Chasse, in St. Bernard Parish.