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Cleanup Underway Along US Gulf Coast Following Hurricane Gustav


Having averted disaster from Hurricane Gustav, New Orleans and the southern Gulf coast are cleaning up from the category two storm that ripped across the Louisiana shore on Monday. VOA's Barry Wood reports from New Orleans that while fewer than ten people died in the storm, more than one million people are still without power.

The nearly two million people who fled their homes in advance of the storm are clamoring to come home. But Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says it is still too dangerous and that the return will take place in stages.

Local and national officials are expressing relief at the relatively low level of damage. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says his city, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, dodged a bullet with Gustav.

The city's levees and flood walls have withstood the onrush of rising waters. Near New Orleans Industrial Canal, salvage expert Joel Dupre says it will take some time to remove two vessels that broke free during the hurricane and came ashore dangerously close to a major highway. "We should be able to get them out in the next three to four days. ..It depends on where they're aground and where they're beached. The one that is free floating small tugs will do the job easily," he said.

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to restore downed electricity lines and clear fallen trees from streets and roads. The city and region are largely absent of residents. Police and national guard are patrolling to assure against vandalism and looting.

The people who remained behind and rode out the storm say Gustav was minor compared to the devastation of Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. Robert Stewart is one of only a few people who refused to leave his home in the city's eighth ward (district). "I stayed all through the storm. It was mostly wind and rain. I didn't realize that the fence (in front of my house) had blew down until I peeked outside the door and saw it. I heard a lot of noise and garbage cans blowing around but aside from that it was OK," he said.

Also spared destruction were the dozens of off-shore oil rigs that produce up to 25 percent of all US oil production. World oil prices fell sharply on Tuesday.

The fast and efficient cleanup effort has won praise for a region that was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Katrina three years ago. The major challenge now is getting people back to their homes in a timely manner.