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Gustav Slams Louisiana

Hurricane Gustav swept across the Louisiana coast on Monday, bringing torrential rains but doing far less damage than had been feared. VOA's Barry Wood rode out the Category 2 hurricane in New Orleans where he reports the concern now is flooding from over-topped levees.

The storm struck the U.S. Gulf Coast southwest of New Orleans, knocking down power lines and creating waves several meters high. Torrential rain buffeted the coast as the storm brushed past New Orleans, losing strength as it headed inland past city of Baton Rouge and into the state of Texas.

Emergency officials are relieved that losses are low. But Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor, Mitchell Landrieu, says he worries most about the levees and walls that protect populated areas from the swollen Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.

"We're watching the television pictures of the splash over on the industrial canal [in New Orleans] and monitoring things as carefully as we can. I want to remind everybody about [Hurricane] Katrina [three years ago]. That storm passed and everybody thought it was OK. And then, other things happened," he said.

Three years ago, levees were breached by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, inundating 80 percent of New Orleans, destroying homes and leaving thousands of people stranded. More than 1,400 died in that storm and in the chaotic and late rescue effort that followed.

This time, people heeded warnings to evacuate and nearly two million departed from coastal areas in advance of the storm. Rescue efforts have been prompt and well coordinated.

Greg Champagne, the Sheriff of St. Charles Parish, a district west of New Orleans, says it is too early for evacuees to return. "Sit tight just a little bit longer. We've got plenty of deputies to control the streets and protect your property tonight [Monday night]. We're going to be out there in full, full force, very aggressively. We don't want anyone on the streets tonight. Our curfew, consider it in effect now. Don't go on the streets, residents. Stay home! There is nothing you can do on the streets except hurt yourselves," he said.

While New Orleans was largely deserted when the storm hit, C.W. Stanbaugh was among those who stayed behind. From the front door of his home, he surveyed the fallen trees. "The only damage I've seen is on the street here. From what I've seen on our battery-operated television, it seems to be pretty much like this all over the city."

Meanwhile, New Orleans has yet to fully recover from the devastation of Katrina in 2005.