Posted at 6:51 AM ET, 09/ 2/2008

Gustav Downgraded

By Howard Schneider

The National Hurricane Center has downgraded Gustav to a tropical depression, as the storm continued a slow crawl toward northeastern Texas. Windspeeds had fallen to around 35 miles per hour, and the center said that a "slow weakening" of the storm was expected over the next day.

Rain was continuing over the area and was expected to accumulate to between six and 12 inches by Thursday, with some isolated areas receiving up to 20 inches.

The threat of tornadoes also remained. Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth reports from Lockport, Louisiana, were bracing after warnings of twisters in the area.

But they had also begun the cleanup. Officials in Lafourche Parish said they had put 35 prisoners to work overnight clearing limbs and debris from an 80 mile stretch of Highway 308, the main roadway through the parish.

In New Orleans, evacuation orders remained in effect for at least another day, with tens of thousands still without power.


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Posted at 6:05 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

No Indication of Offshore Drilling Damage

By Spencer S. Hsu

Hurricane Gustav shut down about 25 percent of U.S. oil production, 12 percent of U.S. gas production, and 12 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity, U.S. energy officials said at a news briefing today.

About 12 of 33 refineries on the gulf coast were shut down, another 10 were operated at reduced levels.

However, Kevin Kolevar, assistant secretary of energy, said a Category 3 hurricane -- which was Gustav's classification while traveling through the Gulf of Mexico -- was well within the design specifications for offshore drilling platforms. He adding that if there is no significant damage to drilling platforms or undersea lines when oil company crews return to the offshore facilities Tuesday, production would likely resume very quickly.

“We don’t see any indication of [significant damage] at this time, but we’ll learn more tomorrow as companies start repopulating facilities,” Kolevar said. “The fact is, with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at record levels today, with domestic petroleum stocks . . . . being at very high levels, we are exceptionally well positioned to deal with temporary disruptions of oil supplies.”

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Posted at 4:02 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

Hurricane Gustav Maps and Models

Follow the progress — and impact — of Hurricane Gustav with the following interactive maps and computer models, which incorporate the latest data from the National Hurricane Center.

Interactive Map

Tropical Tracking Map
See Gustav's current position, wind probabilities, projected path and more with this interactive tool.

NHC / NOAA Models

Other Maps

Know of any other interesting Gustav-related weather maps? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Posted at 2:59 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

Jindal Warns of Flooding

By Peter Whoriskey

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana -- Gov. Bobby Jindal said that even though Hurricane Gustav came ashore as a Category 2 storm, the storm surge is consistent with a Category 3, and that waters continue to rise. And he warned residents that just because storm has moved by, doesn't mean the risk is gone.

"The worst flooding could be on the backside of this storm," Jindal said. He also cautioned that it could take six to 12 hours for the storm waters to recede.

Some of the worst flooding could be in the area of Larose and Golden Meadow areas south of Houma, he said.

"I don't want anybody to have a false sense of hope," he said, noting that there was some initial optimism -- unfounded -- in the first few hours after Katrina passed.

He declined to say whether evacuees can return just yet.

"It is too early to be telling people today that they can come back tomorrow. ".

Jindal also said the area will need gasoline supplies as it returns to normal and he called on President Bush and the federal government to release fuel from the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve

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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

Some La. Towns Have Little Flood Protection

By Spencer S. Hsu

Roy Dokka, director of the Louisiana State University’s Center for Geoinformatics, whose measurements of levees are used by the National Hurricane Center in its flood surge models, warned that the worst may not be over from Gustav.

He focused concern on Houma, Morgan City, and low-lying parishes with little flood protection about 50 miles southeast of New Orleans.

“There really aren’t any levees, there’s not much between them and the Gulf of Mexico right now,” Dokka said. Parts of Houma are as low as eight feet above sea level.

The region is home to workers for critical oil rig and pipeline support services, construction and materials suppliers, Dokka said. If their home are flooded out, Gulf energy production could be affected.

Local residents have taxed themselves to build a levee project called “Morganza to the Gulf,” but it took seven years for Morganza to gain congressional approval, finally winning it last year. Construction costs have risen from $886 million to $1.5 billion, however, and the Army Corps of Engineers must now determine if the cost is worthwhile. .

“Today is going to be a potential day of reckoning. . . . The potential is there for inundating the entire town,” Dokka said. “I’m just hoping it’s not as bad as it might be.”

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Posted at 1:26 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

Loose Vessels in a Canal

By Jacqueline L. Salmon

NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Coast Guard reports that two vessels are loose and one is partially free of its moorings in the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal, known locally as the Industrial Canal.

Two of the ships are 350- feet to 400-feet supply vessels owned by a scrap company that broke lose from their moorings. The other is a barge still held by one mooring line, said Brandon Brewster, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard. They are being pushed against a concrete piling, he said.

The vessels are being watched for fear that they could hit a levee wall and cause a breach.

Brewster said the Coast Guard is working with the owner of the supply vessels and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure them.

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Posted at 1:16 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

Bush Credits Gulf Coast Governors for Coordinated Response

By Dan Eggen

Updated at 6:30 p.m.

President Bush told reporters in Texas that "the coordination on this storm is a lot better than Katrina."

"I feel good about this event," Bush said, but he added: "The storm is yet to pass. This is a serious event."

Bush made the remarks while visiting the Texas Emergency Operations Center in Austin, one of the major staging areas for relief efforts for the storm. Flanked by officials including FEMA administrator David Paulison, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Bush said much of the credit for the improved response was due to the "spirit of sharing" between the governors of Gulf Coast states. All are Republicans.

"It's good to be home," Bush said in rolled-up shirtsleeves as he prepared for his meeting.

"Your home state did good," Perry said after listing Texas efforts to help evacuees from Louisiana and elsewhere.

After his visit to Austin, Bush traveled to the Alamo Regional Command Center in San Antonio where he met with relief workers and urged Americans to volunteer help.

"Nobody is happy about these storms," Bush said. "Everybody is praying for everybody's safety.  But I'm confident that after the storm passes and there's a human need, it will be met because of the generosity of the American people." 


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Posted at 12:14 PM ET, 09/ 1/2008

FEMA's Paulison Praises Response, Warns of Flooding

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison warned today that there still may be danger of flooding in the areas affected by Hurricane Gustav. Paulison spoke to media aboard Air Force One, en route to Austin, Texas with President Bush where they were to be briefed on the storm and its impact on the Gulf Coast.

Paulison called the evacuation of coastal areas "one of the most successful and well coordinated" efforts he had seen, with about 2 million people moved out of southern Louisiana.

Excerpts from the briefing:

"[R]ight now we've got people in shelters, people have evacuated the city. We're waiting for the storm to pass. The National Guard, Coast Guard, Urban Search and Rescue teams are surrounding the city, ready to move back in as soon as the winds die down. So we're poised and ready to respond. And hopefully -- hopefully -- not too many people failed to evacuate. We sure gave everybody an opportunity to do that. There was no reason to stay in the city, and no excuses not to evacuate. There was plenty of transportation, and in fact, the last train we sent out was, out of a capacity of 1,000 people, only had 140 people on board because there was nobody else left to get on. So that was a good thing. . . .

"We have a storm surge coming in. There also could be a lot of rain, so even if the levees hold there still could be possible flooding. The city pumps will pump an inch an hour for the first hour, and a half-inch an hour of water after that. So if we get a lot of rain, there still could be some localized flooding in the city; so that's to be expected. But there's large, large pumps that the Corps put in, and if it does get flooding, we should be able to de-water the city much faster than we saw in Katrina. . . .

"The [Army Corps of Engineers] is saying the levees are much stronger. They've raised them a lot, much higher than they were during Katrina. However, there's still weaknesses in that levee system. It's not where it needs to be. There's a -- it won't be till 2011 until they're up to the 100-year flood thing. So they, along with us, were supporting us in telling the people to evacuate the city for this storm."

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Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 09/ 1/2008

A Losing Situation for Business Owners

By David Montgomery

NEW ORLEANS--Squalls of torrential rain and powerful wind gusts –- alternating with interludes of strange, rainless calm — swept through the French Quarter this morning, where the owners and customers of a few hold-out bars and restaurants stood at their doorways waiting for what Gustav would delilver.

The few denizens of the Quarter who remained behind were already beginning to express the hope – albeit perhaps premature, they admitted—that Gustav wouldn’t hammer New Orleans too badly, as it appeared to be aiming to the west.

“We looked at it and decided it was going to be ok, we’re not going to get the heart of it,” said Monty Mashburn, whose family owns Monty’s Restaurant and Suishi Bar on Conti Street. Mashburn was serving grits, eggs and eggs benedict with alligator sausage to a few local customers and the small army of reporters bunkered at nearby hotels. A sign was tacked to the plywood armor over the door: “We are open.”

Monty’s was an oasis where the main television over the bar was tuned not to hurricane coverage, but to “America’s Top Model,” being watched by Mashburn’s 10-year-old granddaughter.

Continue reading this post »

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