NEWS

New Orleans Survives Hurricane Gustav; Evacuation Praised

By Matthew Harwood

The people of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana can breathe a collective sigh of relief this morning as Hurricane Gustav missed the city yesterday and the city's levees held strong.

By the time the storm made landfall 70 miles to the southwest of the city early Monday morning, it had been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. While flooding was still a concern—80 percent of New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina when the Army Corps of Engineers levee system broke—the city's incomplete flood protection system, augmented after Katrina with toughened pumping stations and flood gates, worked.

The New York Times' Eric Lipton surveyed the federal government's disaster planning on Sunday before the storm hit and found that government coordination and collaboration were working together to avoid the government's much criticized response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

The Coast Guard, Defense Department, National Guard and FEMA all have far more personnel, equipment, and emergency supplies in the region than they did three years ago before the hurricane, officials said.

FEMA, for example, had 18 search-and-rescue teams ready to go, compared with 7 before Katrina landed. It had 240 truckloads of water and packaged meals and 400 more truckloads of blankets, cots, and tarps, far more than three years ago.

The Defense Department was coordinating the airlift of more than 1,000 patients from Gulf Coast hospitals and nursing homes.

The Coast Guard had about 500 extra personnel assigned to the response, said Vice Adm. Bob Papp, ready to operate 31 helicopters brought to the region, and two squads with small rescue boats, among other equipment.

New Orleans' officials have also been praised for not evacuating residents to emergency shelters within the city. Three years ago when Katrina hit, about 16,000 people sheltered in the Superdome. This time, tens of thousands of people were moved to a safe distance away from the city. 

A joint CBS/Associated Press article said 90 percent of people in Southern Louisiana, or about 1.9 million people, were evacuated successfully. Many found themselves in shelters in Mississippi.

Offshore oil refineries in the Gulf, which experienced significant damage during Katrina, reported minimal damage. President Bush said yesterday that he will allow oil producers to purchase crude from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate any supply interruptions from the storm. No requests have been made so far, according to Bloomberg.com.

Louisiana has only reported six deaths from Hurricane Gustav so far, compared to the 1,500 killed by Hurricane Katrina.

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