THE GREAT ESCAPE; Hurricane Gustav Relief as Vital Levees Hold but Experts Warn of Surges.And Another Storm

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Byline: BY ANTON ANTONOWICZ

THE people of New Orleans last night breathed a huge sigh of relief as their homes escaped the full wrath of Hurricane Gustav.

The killer storm battered the Gulf coast south-west of the city yesterday with torrential rain and severe winds.

Although Gustav had eased to a Category Two hurricane by the time it hit land, its ferocious gales snapped power cables, causing power cuts.

And even after it was downgraded to a Categroy One, a huge 14ft sea surge saw water crashing over rebuilt and reinforced levees - but without breaching the flood barriers.

It was the 2005 collapse of the levees under the fury of Hurricane Katrina that caused most of the devastation and left more than 1,800 people dead.

Late last night Col Jeff Bedey, commander of the US Army Engineer Corps' hurricane protection office said: "We are cautiously optimistic and confident that we won't see catastrophic wall failure."

Fears of a repeat of the Katrina disaster caused 90 per cent of residents to flee the city ahead of Gustav, and around two million people living along the Gulf coast have sought safety inland.

Despite the more hopeful note, the US National Hurricane Centre warned Gustav's winds could continue to bring "extremely dangerous" storm surges and that isolated tornadoes were also possible.

And experts began warning that Tropical Storm Hanna now has hurricane status and could cause havoc on the US east coast, skirting Florida and hitting South Carolina. …