One man remains unperturbed as Gustav approaches

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 31, 2008 

Sebastian Gerosa remained unperturbed Sunday about the impending arrival of Hurricane Gustav. With the city deathly quiet — most people had long since evacuated — Gerosa spent a hazy afternoon edging his lawn.

CHRIS ADAMS / MCT

METAIRIE, La. _ Even as the city and state around him scrambled for cover, even as his neighbors one by one sped away from town, Sebastian Gerosa remained unperturbed Sunday about the impending arrival of Hurricane Gustav. With the city deathly quiet — most people had long since evacuated — Gerosa spent a hazy afternoon edging his lawn.

Gerosa's small house is in the western suburb of Metairie, just half a block from the famed 17th Street Canal that was the cause of much of the flooding that crippled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Gerosa can see the big white floodwalls that are designed to protect neighborhoods from the man-made drainage canal nearby. Although the worst flooding was on the New Orleans side of the canal, Gerosa's street had two feet of water in it (it was an inch from getting in Gerosa's house) and a big cedar tree crashed into his roof and crumbled his fence.

But he said he's stayed through every flood since 1947, and he wasn't about to change his ways.

"Everybody's hollering 'Storm!' and everybody's running," Gerosa said with a slight sneer. "I ain't leaving."

Gerosa, now 67, is a retired ironworker. His house is near a major pumping station, as well as new gates intended to prevent the kind storm surge that blew down the canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the north and flooded New Orleans.

That gate — and others like it — are among the most important improvements that have been made to the area's hurricane protection system since 2005. Even so, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is only three years into its six-year levee improvement program, meaning that large parts of the New Orleans area are still vulnerable to high storm surges.

Areas on the western bank of the Mississippi River are considered the most at risk from Gustav, and the levee improvements there are still incomplete. Gerosa, and a majority of the population in the New Orleans area, live on the east side of the river.

Gerosa boarded up a big picture window in the front of his house, using the same piece of painted plywood that he's used for numerous hurricanes before. He and his wife will ride out the storm in their house, and then wait out the lack of power and other services that could last for days.

Dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, with a pipe hanging from his pocket, Gerosa worked his lawn with an ancient gas edger.

"As far as the wind, I got no problem with that," he said. "And the flooding — we're on a ridge here; it's supposed to be high ground."

He then restarted his edger. "Now excuse me," he said. "I gotta cut my grass."

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