Saturday, August 30, 2008

Category 4: New Orleans Braces For Gustav

Spooked by predictions that Hurricane Gustav could grow into a Category 5 monster, an estimated 1 million residents fled the Gulf Coast Saturday - well ahead of the official order to get out of the way of a storm taking dead aim at Louisiana.
Residents took to buses, trains, planes and cars - clogging roadways leading away from New Orleans, still reeling three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed about 1,600 across the region.
Gustav had already killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean, and if current forecasts hold up, it would make landfall Monday afternoon somewhere between the northeast corner of Texas and western Mississippi.
Forecasters warned it was still too soon to say whether New Orleans would take another direct hit, but residents weren’t taking any chances judging by the bumper-to-bumper traffic pouring from the city. Gas stations along interstate highways were running out of fuel, and phone circuits were jammed.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said they were surprised at how quickly Gustav gained strength as it charged toward Cuba. It went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in about 24 hours, and was likely to become a Category 5 - with sustained winds of 156 mph or more - by Sunday.
Residents were streaming out of the city even though a mandatory evacuation order had not yet been issued for New Orleans. Hotels closed, and the airport prepared to follow suit. Mayor Ray Nagin, saying the danger to the city was growing, told tourists to leave. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff planned to travel to Louisiana on Sunday to observe preparations.
As part of the evacuation plan New Orleans developed after Hurricane Katrina, residents who had no other way to get out of the city waited on a line that snaked for more than a mile through the parking lot of the city’s Union Passenger Terminal. From there, they were to board motor coaches bound for shelters in north Louisiana.
(Source: Associated Press)

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