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Hurricane Gustav Slams Into US Gulf Coast

Hurricane Gustav crashed into the U.S. gulf coast Monday bringing strong rain but winds that were weaker than initially expected. Most residents of New Orleans had already fled the city, where water is now splashing over the levees that were rebuilt after the devastating hurricane that hit the same area three years ago. Initial reports say the levees appear to be holding. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report from Miami.

Weather forecasters in Miami said Hurricane Gustav weakened slightly before making landfall Monday southwest of the low-lying city of New Orleans. The latest conditions appeared to be good news for New Orleans residents and officials who feared the storm could be worse than Hurricane Katrina which caused massive flooding in 2005 and was blamed for about 1,400 deaths.

The National Hurricane Center said hurricane conditions from Gustav extended over a vast area along the gulf coast, including tornadoes in some areas. Some outlying areas along the coast were submerged as the hurricane came ashore.

Forecaster Bill Read said the storm brushed past New Orleans around mid-day but the danger was not over.

"However adverse conditions continue in the New Orleans area with storm surge tides in the 10-11 foot range on the east-facing coastline of Louisiana, and rising tides to about the same level expected along the parishes [neighborhoods] along the west bank of the Mississippi River," said Bill Read.

Some two million people fled the coastline from Alabama to Texas ahead of the storm's arrival. New Orleans officials issued a mandatory evacuation for the city in an effort to prevent residents from being trapped in the city by flood waters.

Engineers in New Orleans said they expected heavy rains to cause some flooding, but the storm had not breached levee walls built to hold back Lake Pontchartrain. Hurricane Gustav has raised concern about the strength of the levee system, which is still undergoing repairs and reinforcement work following Hurricane Katrina.