Gustav Makes Landfall, Just Missing New Orleans

A weakened Hurricane Gustav stormed ashore in a deserted coastal area just west of New Orleans, a near miss for the nearly deserted city still haunted by the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.

Water spilled over the top of levees protecting New Orleans, but Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Rene Poche said the levees were holding and that he did not expect any surge flooding.

That sigh of relief in New Orleans, however, was not good news for the coastal towns to the west. Although Gustav was downgraded to a Category 2 and was no longer the "mother of all storms" that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin predicted, it was still packing enough punch to menace the coastal regions to the west.

Gustav arrived with winds of up 110 mph and was expected to dump 20 inches of rain on the area and trigger storm surges up to 12 feet high.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also warned that killer tornados could be following in Gustav's wake.

The storm veered westward as it neared New Orleans, with the eye making landfall shortly before 10 a.m. at the remote bayou hamlet of Cocodrie. It's an area populated by shrimpers and oil rig workers. Gustav was on a path to drive northwest through Houma, Morgan City and Lafayette.

Gustav crashed into an area that hard largely been abandoned since more than 2 million people had fled the coast in the largest evacuation in U.S. history.

Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte told ABCNews.com that a mandatory evacuation had succeeded in clearing out 75 percent of the population and the city was protected by a 24 foot seawall, with levees surrounding the city.

Matte predicted that the area of Port Fourshom and Houma, a major supply base for the oil industry, to be hardest hit.

Houma Parish President Michel Claudet told ABCNews.com that the lightly protected area was being hammered by 95 mph winds that were strong enough to peel back the roof of the parish firehouse and knock out power to their emergency services center.

Claudet said their biggest concern is that the area has no hurricane levees, and is protected only by drainage levees that are not prepared to handle storm surges from a Category 2 hurricane.

New Orleans, which was devastated three years ago by Hurricane Katrina, had braced itself for another staggering blow from Mother Nature and was keeping a nervous eye on a system of levees that has been described as "fragile."

The weakest section of the city's levees is on the western side of the city, New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin has warned -- and that's the side of the city that was expected to feel the brunt of Gustav's wrath.

The pressure on New Orleans eased when Gustav was downgraded and swung slightly to the west in the hours before it lumbered ashore. The water rose the top of the levees and spilled over as each wave hit the concrete barrier, but it appeared that the levees were holding this time.

The stragglers in New Orleans woke at dawn to slashing rain being driven through the city by winds of up to 67 mph and gusts up to 86 mph, making it difficult for a person to stand and not be knocked down. Palm trees and street lights flailed in the wind. A billboard on Central Avenue was shredded. In the French Quarter, the sound of windows popping was constant. Signs were smashed and dangling askew A lamppost was toppled and a building's marquee collapsed.

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