new orleans city a 'ghost town'

NEW ORLEANS - Hurricane Gustav lashed the Louisiana coast yesterday with pounding rain and heavy winds, posing the biggest threat to New Orleans since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

NEW ORLEANS - Hurricane Gustav lashed the Louisiana coast yesterday with pounding rain and heavy winds, posing the biggest threat to New Orleans since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Gustav was expected to make landfall before midday as a cate- gory 3 hurricane, but its outer bands were already hitting the Gulf coast early yesterday.

Nearly two million people fled the Gulf coast in one of the biggest US evacuations.

More than 11million residents in five states were threatened by the fast-moving storm.

Oil companies shut down nearly all production in the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico, a region that normally pumps a quarter of US oil output and 15percent of its natural gas.

But Gustav failed to draw as much power as once feared as it rolled across warm Gulf of Mexico waters. Forecasters said it was unlikely to grow stronger now and would begin to weaken as it moves inland.

Hurricane Gustav also took centre stage in US politics as Republicans prepared to open their convention yesterday to nominate presidential candidate John McCain, with a bare-bones programme stripped of the usual pomp and circumstance.

The eye of the storm was on track to hit west of New Orleans, sparing the city a direct hit from the worst of its gusting winds.

But the US National Hurricane Centre said Gustav was still likely to toss up "an extremely dangerous storm surge" of up to 4,3metres that could test the holding power of levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

By Sunday night, the streets of New Orleans were ghostly quiet after some 95percent of the population fled. - Reuters

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