Hurricane Gustav Comes Ashore; New Orleans Levees Hold

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
September 1, 2008
A weakened but still powerful Hurricane Gustav made landfall around 10:30 a.m. eastern time today as a Category 2 storm.

When it touched land, the hurricane's strongest winds were blowing at about 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, making it just one mile an hour below Category 3 status, said meteorologist Jessica Schauer-Clark at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

The storm's high winds pushed a 12-foot (3.6-meter) storm surge into coastal Louisiana this morning, sending water pounding over New Orleans' recently repaired levees.

(See photos of the storm's effects on New Orleans.)

But as of 3 p.m. eastern time, the city's levees were holding up against their most severe test since catastrophic Hurricane Katrina caused them to fail in August 2005.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported this afternoon that wind-driven water was spilling over the Industrial Canal levee near downtown New Orleans, but that there were no indications the levee was going to fail.

The newspaper also reported that water sloshing over the levee had caused about 6 inches (15 centimeters) of flooding in the city's Lower Ninth Ward.

That neighborhood saw the worst flooding when the Industrial Canal levee gave way in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Parallel Path

Gustav slammed into Cuba Saturday with winds of 150 miles (241 kilometers) an hour, but its trek across the island's mountains weakened it significantly.

The hurricane is thought to have killed at least 94 people since it started its journey across the Caribbean Sea as a tropical storm on August 25.

Keith Blackwell, a meteorologist at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile, noted that Gustav encountered cooler water as it neared the Louisiana coastline, and this caused it to weaken as it made landfall.

Gustav's eye came ashore in Louisiana near Cocodrie (pronounced ko-ko-DREE), a small town in Terrebonne Parish about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans. (See a map of the region.)

The hurricane's eye has since been moving west-northwest, or roughly parallel with the Louisiana coast.

This movement will likely spread Gustav's wind damage along a longer stretch of the Louisiana coastline than would have been affected if the storm had come in at a perpendicular angle to the shore, Blackwell said.

Andy Patrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, said Gustav's center was moving at about 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour and would be near the Texas-Louisiana border by tomorrow.

"Lake Charles probably will have pretty strong winds from the north prior to this storm's arrival," Patrick said. "This evening we'll probably see winds of 50 to 60 miles [80 to 96 kilometers] an hour, in gusts."

Gustav "may be downgraded to a tropical storm later today," he added. "It doesn't look like hurricane-force winds [at least 74 miles, or 119 kilometers, an hour] will make it this far."

Patrick said Gustav's blow would not be nearly as bad as what the area took from Hurricane Rita, which came ashore at the Louisiana-Texas border as a powerful Category 3 storm in September 2005.

Hanna Approaches

From Lake Charles, Gustav is expected to gradually weaken as it moves more slowly into northeast Texas. From that point the storm should continue its slow movement and gradually weaken.

But the National Weather Service is expecting flooding in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas from Gustav's heavy rainfall.

Patrick said Gustav could dump 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain over the four-state area, and some areas could see as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters).

Meanwhile, residents on the U.S. southeastern coast were advised to start watching Hurricane Hanna.

The storm was upgraded to a minimal Category 1 hurricane today when its strongest winds reached 75 miles (120 kilometers) an hour. The hurricane is expected to start moving northwestward from the Bahamas.

The five-day forecast for Hanna predicts that it will make landfall Friday as a Category 1 storm in the vicinity of Savannah, Georgia, or Charleston, South Carolina.

But the storm could go ashore anywhere from the Florida Keys to Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

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