MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast this morning at about 9:30 Central Time. The storm made landfall in Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana's bayou country, southwest of New Orleans.
While the storm is expected to cost billions of dollars in damage across the region, the worst-case scenario did not happen, a direct hit on New Orleans. Officials are cautiously optimistic that the city may have escaped the worst of the hurricane's wind and water and that its levee system has held.
In a moment, I'll talk with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. First, to New Orleans and NPR's John Burnett.
JOHN BURNETT: I'm standing on top of the Mississippi River levee at the river bend at the base of Carrollton Street where it meets St. Charles. Looking at the Mississippi River, we can see a few whitecaps, it's very blustery, but we're not into hurricane force winds at this point.
Bands of gray clouds are blowing past overhead. There are lots of branches down from these great old live oak trees in the streets. But all in all, the folks we've talked to say this doesn't even begin to compare to Katrina.
Mr. ART PODESTA(ph) (Owner, Cooter Brown's): Not much to compare, really. It's not even close. So, it's just like a windstorm. I mean, we even haven't hardly had any rain or anything. So, really, not much to say on that. Kinda boring.
BURNETT: That's Art Podesta, the restaurant owner at Cooter Brown's, a venerable cafe and watering hole. He and other employees were staying on the premises to protect it and be ready to serve cheeseburgers to returning residents as soon as power is restored.
Podesta and his cohorts were sitting on picnic tables, sipping beer and energy drinks, each with a big black handgun bulging from his waistband. He was asked to give a grade to preparations for Gustav compared to Katrina.
Mr. PODESTA: I would say an A this time. Last time was an F. But I won't tell you what the F stands for.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PODESTA: But it's a different feeling this time. Last time, you know, the hairs would rise on the back of your neck, because you knew. Yeah, I knew what was going to happen in the city when everyone figured out there's nobody watching the roost. And this time around now, way different, way different.
BURNETT: Mainly, he said police and National Guard have been a constant presence in the streets, compared to their indifference to looters in the days after Katrina. In terms of raw weather, New Orleans received mainly tropical storm force winds all day and very little rain.
Charles Coones(ph), an interior designer, rode out the storm with his parents in his stately, century-old uptown home. As rain whipped down the street, he described it...
Mr. CHARLES COONES (Interior Designer): Like a bad tropical storm. And I think we'll survive it with, thank God, less damage than what was predicted. During Katrina, it was much worse than this.
BURNETT: As of Monday afternoon, the extensive levee system that permits habitation in this geographic bowl seemed to be holding. Officials were anxiously watching the Industrial Canal on the eastern side of the city as storm surge washed over the top, creating minor flooding in several blocks of the upper 9th Ward.
An Army Corps of Engineers official said today his people had inspected the back of the flood wall and they believe it is holding. What's more, the Coast Guard reported two old Navy scrap ships and a barge had broken free from their moorings and were drifting rudderless in the Industrial Canal. Late today, the Coast Guard was urgently looking for tugboats to retrieve the free-floating sea crafts.
So, how did the region's newly fortified levees hold up under their first real test since Katrina? This question was put to H.J. Bosworth, an engineer and research director for levees.org, a grassroots advocacy group that supports a stronger levee network.
Mr. H.J. BOSWORTH (Engineer and Research Director, Levees.org): This is a lightweight test. This is not the kind of test that we had with Katrina. But fortunately, it looks like the levees and flood protection over to the east of us seem to be holding up all right.
BURNETT: Today, Mayor Ray Nagin and other officials were beginning to exhale that their still-rebuilding city appeared to be spared another hurricane from hell. A dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in place tonight. Search and rescue operations will begin as soon as the winds die down. Officials reported earlier today they had answered only nine distress calls in New Orleans so far.
John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans.
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