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Tense New Orleans Marks Katrina Anniversary as Storm Gustav Approaches

Tom Leonard, The Telegraph UK

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 New Orleans marked the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in a mood of uneasiness as Tropical Storm Gustav rolled closer across the Caribbean, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

    Forecasters predicted that Gustav, which left at least 67 people dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, would intensify with winds of up to 130 mph after it pounded Jamaica today and headed toward Cuba.


Grafitti by the elusive artist Banksy adorns an abandoned home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Friday, August 28, marks the third anniversary since Hurricane Katrina. Events marking the anniversary and memorializing those who died were held across the city. (Photo: Getty Images)

    The US National Weather Service said it could become a major hurricane before reaching western Cuba on Saturday. It later warned the country: "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion." The hurricane is still expected to hit the US Gulf coast on Monday or Tuesday, anywhere between east Texas and west Florida. Experts say the most likely area lies between Houston and Mobile, Alabama.

    Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed nearly 1,500 people after breaching protective levees in 2005.

    In New Orleans, bells rang through the city at 9.38 am, the moment when the levees were overcome. But the attention of its calm but tense citizens was more focused on the future than on the past.

    Residents bought emergency supplies while officials finalised evacuation plans that appeared increasingly likely.

    Three years after his administration was castigated for its slow response to the disaster, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, arrived in New Orleans on Thursday and said he was confident in its preparations.

    "We're well-positioned and we've got a good set of plans, and now we're waiting to put them into motion," he told Fox News.

    But officials warned that there are still gaps in the city's flood defences, particularly in the poorer areas that were the worst affected by Katrina.

    Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's state governor, said a compulsory evacuation order could be issued on Saturday if the storm stayed on course. National Guardsmen would then be moved into the city.

    "We want people to know that their property will be safe," he said.

    Oil prices rallied on Friday as the storm threatened to disrupt American production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

    BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips have already evacuated workers from their installations in the Gulf.

    Jamaican officials said the storm had destroyed homes, even ripping the roof from an emergency shelter, and caused serious damage to the country's banana industry.

    Gustav struck the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as a Category One hurricane.

    Most of the deaths were caused by floods and mudslides, many houses collapsing on their occupants. Officials in Haiti warned that the death toll could rise as rescuers reached more remote areas.