Gustav devastates communities

East Baton Rouge sheriff says "damage most severe I've seen. . . really bad situation;" may be weeks before all power is restored


UNWELCOME -- A tree split open the roof of this Baton Rogue home when Hurricane Gustav swept through the area Monday. Thousands of trees fell on houses, power lines in the Louisiana city.
Credit: DNN/Kristie Sprague

Hurricane Gustav sideswiped New Orleans Monday but left a trail of destruction in other communities across Louisiana, damaging thousands of homes.

The "damage is the most severe I've seen," Sheriff Sid Gautreaux of the East Baton Rouge Parish told reporters Monday night. It is a "really bad situation," he added. "The clean up effort is going to be tremendous."

Damage assessments will not begin across the region until Tuesday or Wednesday but based upon preliminary reports Monday night, more than 2,000 homes were damaged by the storm, including more than 400 in Baton Rogue alone.

In Houma, several homes and a nearby business burned Monday when fire fighters were unable to get to the scene due to high winds and storm damage. Trailers were reported to have been damaged or destroyed, roofs blown off and the high school damaged.

In nearby Schriever, a possible tornado destroyed a fire station and severely damaged a police station, according to emergency officials. Damage is thought to be extensive in southern Terrebonne Parish but debris-filled roads and flooding prevented emergency officials from reaching several communities Monday night.

Louisiana was not the only state to receive significant damage from the storm. Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle were also impacted.

Damage was reported in communities along the Mississippi coast that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Gulfport emergency officials reported extensive flooding that occured as the storm swept across the coast. Several people who had not evacuated earlier were rescued from their homes Monday and an unoccupied building collapsed.

In Biloxi, flooding was reported and many trees blocked roads and tore down power lines and in Pass Christian Harbor, several shrimp boats ran aground.

By 9:30 PM (CDT) Monday, Entergy, the primary electric utility for the region of the state hit by the storm, said more than 780,000 customers were without power. Repairs are expected to rival "the scale and difficulty of Hurricane Katrina restoration," a company spokesman said. It is the third largest number of outages in the company's history.

Entergy said 134 transmission lines and 78 substations were out of service Monday night. "It may be weeks before power is restored in some areas," Gautreaux predicted.

Levees in New Orleans had held as of Monday night, but officials in the Plaquemines Parish to the south had some anxious hours Monday afternoon when an earthen levee was overtopped.

Quick response with sandbags and volunteers from neighboring St. Bernard Parish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state helped stabilize the situation and as of 10 PM Monday the repairs appeared to be holding according to Billy Nungesser, parish president.

At least seven people were killed in Louisiana, bringing the total death toll for the hurricane to nearly 100, including those killed as the story crossed the Dominican Republic and Haiti last week.

Nearly two million people fled Gulf Coast communities in advance of the storm and some may have to wait as long as a week to return home.

While some New Orleans residents may be able to return home Tuesday or Wednesday, residents of Terrebonne Parish including Houma, won't be allowed home until Friday at the earliest.

Early Tuesday the storm was continuing to move northwest. It is expected to slowly move northwest through eastern Texas and into Oklahoma City according to the National Hurricane Center. According to the hurricane center's 1 AM advisory, Gustav is expected to be downgraded to a tropical depression Tuesday and may cause significant flooding over the next two days.

Just as assessments and clean-up begins following Gustav, hurricane forecasters were focusing on Hurricane Hanna which could make landfall Friday along the southeastern Atlantic coast. Yet another storm, Ike, is also working its way across the Atlantic.

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