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|Subject: Fearing Gustav, New Orleans Clears Out Sun Aug 31, 2008 12:41 pm|| |
Fearing Gustav, New Orleans Clears Out
By BECKY BOHRER AP
NEW ORLEANS (Aug.31) -- Hurricane Gustav charged across the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday as residents fled New Orleans and the National Guard prepared to patrol
evacuated neighborhoods in a city still recovering three years after
Katrina. Gustav dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 storm overnight, but forecasters warned it could gain strength from the gulf's warm waters before making landfall as early as Monday.
Long before Mayor Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation order took effect Sunday morning for the city's vulnerable West Bank, residents were already streaming out
of New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast. Bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported in nearly every direction out of New Orleans, and on Bourbon Street, where the party seemingly never ends, only stragglers toting luggage were sporadically seen on the sidewalks.
Still, there were a few holdouts.
"You'd be a moron" not to be worried about the storm, Inez Douglas said at Johnny White's Sports Bar & Grill.
But while she was keeping an eye on the storm, she wasn't going anywhere.
Gustav crossed western Cuba on Saturday and has already killed more than 80 people in
the Caribbean. It picked up speed upon reaching the gulf and was moving
northwest at 17 mph with winds of 120 mph, according to the National
Hurricane Center's 11 a.m. EDT update. Hurricane-force winds extended
50 miles from the storm's center. Its center was about 325 miles southeast of the Mississippi River's mouth. The storm could bring a storm surge of up to 20 feet to the coast and rainfall totals of up to 15 inches.
A hurricane warning for over 500 miles of Gulf coast from Cameron, La., near the Texas
border to the Alabama-Florida state line, meaning hurricane conditions
are expected there within 24 hours. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a
mandatory evacuation order Sunday for some coastal areas of Mobile and
In New Orleans, Nagin used stark language to urge residents to get out of the city,
calling Gustav the "the mother of all storms." He also called it the
"storm of the century."
"This is the real deal, not a test," Nagin said as he issued the evacuation
order Saturday night. "For everyone thinking they can ride this storm
out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you
can make in your life."
Forecasters were slightly less dire in their predictions, saying the storm should make
landfall somewhere between western Mississippi and East Texas, where
evacuations were also under way. It's too early to know whether New
Orleans will take another direct hit, they said, but city officials weren't taking any chances.
The mandatory evacuation of the West Bank, where levee improvements remain
incomplete, began at 8 a.m. local time, with the east bank to follow later Sunday. It's the first test of a revamped evacuation plan designed to eliminate the chaos, looting and death that followed Katrina.
Residents of suburban Jefferson Parish, swollen by residents who did not return to
New Orleans after Katrina, were also ordered to leave in the first-ever
mandatory evacuation of the entire parish.
The city will not offer emergency services to those who choose stay behind, Nagin said,
and there will be no "last resort" shelter as there was during Katrina,
when thousands suffered inside a squalid Superdome. The city said in a
news release that those not on their property after the mandatory
evacuation started would be subject to arrest.
Many residents didn't need to be ordered, with an estimated 1 million people fleeing
the Gulf Coast on Saturday by bus, train, plane and car. They clogged
roadways, emptied gas stations of fuel and jammed phone circuits.
At the city's main transit terminal, a line snaked through the parking lot for more than a
mile as residents with no other means of getting out waited to board
buses bound for shelters in north Louisiana and beyond.
"I'm not staying for 'em any more," said Lester Harris, a 53-year-old electrician
waiting at a bus pickup point in the Lower 9th Ward. He was rescued
from his house by boat after Katrina. "I got caught in the water and
spent two days on my roof. No food, no water. It was pretty bad."
On Sunday, the lines were a much shorter.
"I'll be glad when it's over and I hope it doesn't mess up the city too bad," said Johnny
Clanton, 59, waiting with a bag, hoping to catch up with a friend who
also planned to leave the city.
The White House said President Bush's plans to attend the Republican National
Convention on Monday were on hold because of worries about Gustav. Bush
had been scheduled to speak late Monday night in St. Paul, Minn.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff planned to travel to Louisiana on Sunday to observe preparations. And likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain
and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, were traveling to Mississippi.
Many residents said the early stage of the evacuation was more orderly than Katrina,
although a plan to electronically log and track evacuees with a bar
code system failed and was aborted to keep the buses moving. Officials
said information on evacuees would be taken when they reached their
Some began arriving Saturday in Arkansas, where the National Guard prepared to shelter
thousands for weeks. At least 15,000 people sought refuge in the inland
state in 2005, following Katrina and Rita.
Meanwhile, as many as 500 critical-care patients were being airlifted from hospitals along the Gulf Coast to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, a spokesman
said. The patients were being taken to about 20 hospitals around North
Traffic late Saturday night was stop and go on Interstate 10, heading west into
Houston from the Louisiana border, as Texas prepared to house up to
45,000 evacuees, even though that state's eastern stretches were within
the range of where Gustav could make landfall.
In Beaumont, not far from where Hurricane Rita roared ashore as a Category 3 in 2005,
residents were boarding up homes and leaving. In neighboring Orange County, officials were inundated "by thousands" of people calling to register for evacuation assistance, a county spokeswoman said.
Associated Press writers Peter Prengaman, Janet McConnaughey, Alan Sayre, Allen G.
Breed, Mary Foster and Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report from
New Orleans. Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, La., Michael Kunzelman in
Gulfport, Miss., and Peggy Harris in Little Rock also contributed.