Hurricane Gustav relents, spares Louisiana the worst; 12 dead (Second lead)

September 2nd, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 2 (DPA) Hurricane Gustav, the monster storm that sent two million Gulf coast residents fleeing and wrote political history in the US, spared Louisiana and its empty city of jazz the horrors they had been bracing for, although it took 12 lives.By early Tuesday, Gustav had whimpered back down to a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Centre reported. As it travelled across the Caribbean and Cuba over the last week, however, it had killed 80 people with winds of up to 249 km per hour.

There was some damage from winds of 177 km per hour and some minor flooding. Nearly half the state’s 1.1 million electricity customers were in the dark Monday night, Entergy spokesman Morgan Stewart told the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper.

Officials were keeping watch for a possible surge along the Mississippi River from heavy rainfall and high winds.

But it was nothing like the killer storm of 2005, named Katrina, that took 1,800 lives, flooded New Orleans for more than a week and trapped tens of thousands without food and water for days.

All told, Gustav appeared to have killed about 12 people, according to the Picayune’s count, none of them in New Orleans.

An elderly couple was killed in Baton Rouge when a tree dropped on the house they had taken refuge in. Four people were killed in a traffic accident as they fled the storm. And six critical-care patients died during evacuations of nursing homes and hospitals, according to State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine.

Well into Monday evening, televised images showed water still spilling over some of New Orleans rebuilt levees, causing minor flooding and sending volunteers and rescue officials scurrying with sand bags to shore them up.

But none of them broke.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin were in no rush to bring evacuees back to town before downed power cables were secured and wind-blown refuse could be removed from the streets.

Nagin said he hoped residents could return within 24 to 36 hours of Monday afternoon. Jindal said it was “too, too early to say that it’s safe” for return Tuesday.

Gustav wrote political history by forcing Republicans to rethink their four-day presidential convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, 2,000 km away.

To avoid appearing insensitive to the natural disaster unfolding on the Gulf coast, Senator John McCain, 72, the party’s presumptive nominee, cancelled political speeches for the opening day Monday.

US President George W. Bush had a chance to redeem the black mark from the 2005 storm, when he attended political events and failed to supervise federal efforts while Katrina wreaked havoc.

He flew to Texas Monday to oversee disaster relief efforts after cancelling his speech at the Republican convention.

Gustav made landfall Monday near the town of Cocodrie in Louisiana state, and dropped quickly down from a category 3 to a category 2 hurricane on the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of 177 km per hour.

By evening, Gustav had dropped to category 1 before its final reduction to tropical storm.

Anxiety in the region grew as Gustav approached over the weekend. The area is still recovering from the 2005 twin storms of Katrina and Rita, with thousands of people still living in temporary trailers while they try to rebuild their former lives.

The massive mandatory evacuation was one of the largest in US history. From New Orleans alone, an estimated 300,000 people fled in their own transport. Another 18,000 were transported by the city via train, bus and planes.

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