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Sense of dread in area where Gustav could make landfall

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Underwater
Flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Photo by Carlos Barria/Getty Images

In the low-lying Louisiana bayou area where forecasters think Hurricane Gustav will make landfall, people are largely without levees.

A federal levee plan to protect Houma and the surrounding towns has never gotten off the ground. Most of Houma is protected by drainage levees about 10 feet tall. Gustav's storm surge is expected to be more than 10 feet high and could overwhelm the city's protection.

Louisiana State University geologist Roy Dokka, who conducted a recent survey of levee heights in southeastern Louisiana, says "Houma is just sitting there naked."

A combination of factors -- oil drilling, hurricanes, river levees and damming of rivers -- have destroyed marshes and swamps that once flourished in the river delta. The U.S. Geological Survey says about 900 square miles of coastal land has disappeared since the 1950s.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)