U.S. weather forecasters say Hurricane Gustav's outer edge has begun battering the U.S. Gulf coast as it nears New Orleans,(in the southern state of Louisiana.

The deadly storm has winds of nearly of 185 kilometers per hour, and is expected to make landfall midday Monday.

Officials say 95 percent of the residents in the threatened area - or about two million people - have fled the approaching storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Gustav may strengthen before it makes landfall. Tides may be about four meters higher than normal as the storm crosses the coastline.

Louisiana Officials: 'Leave Now'

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has strongly encouraged all remaining residents along the coast - about 100,000 people - to evacuate.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused levees around New Orleans to fail and flood most of the city.

Katrina claimed more than 1,400 lives and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Federal disaster management officials say they are moving emergency supplies and personnel into positions at locations around the expected landfall area.

National Guardsmen are in New Orleans, ready to respond. 

Bush to Visit Hurricane Area

President Bush plans to travel to the neighboring state of Texas Monday to meet with emergency workers. He said he hopes to visit Louisiana as soon as conditions permit.

Last week, Gustav crossed over Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, taking at least 86 lives. The storm also caused property damage in Cuba, but no deaths were reported.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.