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How New Orleans weathered Gustav

From levee-buttressing heroics to beefed-up security, the Crescent City charts a post-hurricane course.

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Phillip Turner, who’s lived in New Orleans for 65 years, swept the streets in the French Quarter after Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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New Orleanians and the world held their collective breath Monday as hurricane Gustav huffed and puffed but ultimately failed to blow this old port town down.

As a meteorological monster, hurricane Gustav was no hurricane Katrina, coming ashore as a Category 2 hurricane, compared with Katrina's Category 3 winds, and veering far enough west to do little but break tree limbs and fling a few truck-bed liners around New Orleans.

"The levees held, the levees held," New Orleans City Councilor Cynthia Willard-Lewis breathily reported. "Our spirit is unshaken."

Gustav's diminished strength and the much-ballyhooed improved cooperation among state, local, and federal officials certainly had a role in the city's survival. But the real keys were the up-armored levee system, a small task force of National Guard soldiers, heroic actions on storm-whipped levees, and, ultimately, a shift in Gulf Coast residents' view of their precarious perch on the Gulf.

"This was a good way for us to test ourselves a little bit," says healthcare worker Macon Moore, walking his dog, Rocky, in the mostly unscathed Garden District.

Even worries about Gulf oil rigs and refineries subsided, with the price of a barrel of sweet crude dropping $4 Monday. Although 1,836 people died as a result of Katrina, at time of writing seven were reported to have perished in Gustav, including a family of evacuees escaping to Atlanta.

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