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Big Easy breathes easier after Gustav goes -

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Big Easy breathes easier after Gustav goes

The World Today - Tuesday, 2 September , 2008 12:35:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: Let's go overseas now, in the United States, the Big Easy is feeling a little easier
today.

Hurricane Gustav slammed ashore on the US Gulf Coast west of New Orleans overnight.

And the levees that were rebuilt after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina three years ago
appear to be holding for now.

But while New Orleans may have been spared the worst of the storm, residents of other communities
along the Louisiana coast have not been so lucky.

Michael Rowland joins us now from just outside New Orleans.

So Michael just where are you and what sort of damage are you seeing?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well I just moved into New Orleans proper Eleanor, I'm in the French quarter, it's
very much a ghost town all most of the shops here are boarded up, the famous or infamous bars at
this quarter are essentially closed and the city's under police lockdown, I'm looking out the
window now and yet another police car is going past by car.

The authorities are taking absolutely no chance with the prospect of looting here, there's been a
very strong warning put out by the city's mayor that any looters will be sent straight to jail. But
it does seem fairly much under control and New Orleans has dare I say the phrase that was said just
before the flooding started three years ago, has dogged a bullet.

ELEANOR HALL: And what's the outlook for the days ahead? When might residents be allow to go home?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well resident are being told by the state governor Bobby Jindal and the Mayor here
Ray Nagin to give it at least a couple of days. The authorities here, the relief authorities want
to make absolutely sure that the city is safe and secure. We went down to have a firsthand look at
those infamous levees that were breached so disastrously three years ago and they were holding up
very well in fact the water levels were dropping.

So there is no at this stage at least of flooding, of the catastrophic flooding that followed
Hurricane Katrina and also we're told it's obviously night fall here now, first this in the morning
search and rescue teams are going out on police helicopters to see whether any people have been
stranded by the hurricane.

The situation's not so great Eleanor in a place called Plaquemines Parish which is 90 km south east
of New Orleans. We're told that authorities are fighting a losing battle to stop flood waters
moving over (inaudible) levees.

Bill Nungesser is the Parish president of Plaquemines Parish and here's how he describes the scene
there.

BILL NUNGESSER: The winds continue to pick up and push the water into this levee and we've got less
than a foot clear on it and several of the spots are just washing over. There's about eight foot of
water on the inside of the levee right now and it continues to blow.

We've got sand bags we're transporting out there in a last ditch effort to save it but it doesn't
look good. So we need everybody that stayed to immediately leave. This levee could give way and
flood the whole East Bank to White Ditch in little or no time.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Bill Nungesser from Plaquemines Parish which is having a more difficult
time than New Orleans. Michael has there been any assessment of the damage to the oil industry?
This clearly wasn't as bad a storm as people expected but are you aware of that yet?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: No it wasn't as bad as Katrina economically at this stage at least we're told that
none of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were affected by this storm which was very much weaker
when it did come across the land fall on the coast earlier this morning our time.

Obviously there's going to be a fair amount of damage onshore, I drove through areas today Eleanor,
where there were lots of trees uprooted, there were roofs torn off houses, there were billboards
hanging over, hanging over the road so it's going to take authorities here at least a few days if
not a couple of weeks to tally up the economic damage, but it looks as though as we go to air there
isn't any human cost for this hurricane so far.

ELEANOR HALL: Now the hurricane is now heading for Texas, do you know what sort of preparations are
being made there?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: There are plans we're told in the eastern part of Texas for a small scale
evacuation, mind you the storm has lost a lot its intensity it was a category two storm when it
came ashore here just in New Orleans, it was then downgraded to a category one storm and it's now
essentially a tropical storm.

So I don't think it's going to have the impact, anywhere near the impact in Texas as it's obviously
had in places across Louisiana.

ELEANOR HALL: Michael Rowland thank you. That's Michael Rowland our North America correspondent in
New Orleans.