Hurricane weakens as it nears New Orleans

Hurricane Gustav weakened slightly to a Category 2 storm as it headed towards New Orleans today, the US National Hurricane Centre said.









The city resembled a ghost town this morning after its mayor warned "the storm of the century" was coming and it was "time to be scared".



Torrential downpours swept across the US Gulf coast three years after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Forecasters warned the eye of the hurricane and its 110mph winds would hit Louisiana at around 5pm UK time.



An estimated two million people have been evacuated in the state, Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) deputy director Harvey Johnson said.













The main threat to New Orleans appeared to be flooding, with an "extremely dangerous" storm surge of 10ft to 14ft in tidal levels on some areas of the coast.

But despite the mass evacuation in recent days, many residents were resolutely staying on.



Aileen Bennett, 43, originally from London, lives in one of the areas set to be worst hit.



From her home in Lafayette, about 110 miles west of New Orleans, she said earlier: "I am actually standing outside and it is blissfully quiet and beautiful.



"It has not been what we were expecting but we are prepared."



The latest forecast from the US-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said the worst of the storms would sweep through Louisiana, west of New Orleans.



The NHC's latest update said reports indicated that "maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 110mph, with higher gusts".



It went on: "No significant change in strength is likely before landfall with weakening expected to begin after Gustav moves inland later today.



"Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the centre and tropical storm force winds extend outwards up to 230 miles."



President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney skipped the Republican Party's national convention after presidential hopeful John McCain suspended the majority of proceedings because of mounting concerns about Gustav.



Mr Bush, who was severely criticised for his administration's poor response to the Katrina disaster, warned America yesterday of the "dangerous" threat posed by the storm.



He urged residents on the US Gulf coast to heed local warnings and added: "Know that the American people stand with you and we will face this emergency together."



He was widely attacked in the wake of Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in US coastal areas, for a slow, apparently casual, approach to the disaster and the relief effort.



Today, he was travelling to Texas to meet emergency workers and evacuees.



Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama also stepped into the crisis and offered to tap his huge network of donors and volunteers to help any victims of Gustav.



"I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary," Mr Obama said.



Gustav has already left a trail of death and destruction in its wake, killing 94 people across the Caribbean.



New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin imposed a dawn-to-dusk curfew from sunset last night as Gustav approached and said the storm would be "big and ugly".



Looting, one of the major problems in the wake of Katrina three years ago, would not be tolerated, Mr Nagin said.



Another Briton defying the warnings was James Lewis, 38, who left Putney, south west London, to run a pub in New Orleans.



He said he was defying the order to prevent "what happened to my pub when Katrina rolled in - looting and mindless destruction".



The Crown & Anchor is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, which is being evacuated.



Yesterday, Mr Lewis, 38, said: "The general consensus here is (the mayor) is covering his back after the colossal muck-up over Katrina."



The US authorities' actions will be closely scrutinised after what was widely seen as a series of catastrophic failures in its slow and inadequate response to Katrina.



After Katrina hit land on August 29 2005, three-quarters of the city was flooded after the storm surge breached its protective levees.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Production / Manufacturing Operative

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading garage door manufacturer are curr...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software / Solution Sales

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a thri...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific