FEMA Prepares For Gustav To Hit Gulf Coast

Emergency officials are preparing for the possibility that Tropical Storm Gustav could regain hurricane strength and hit the Gulf Coast early next week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned emergency supplies such as water, food, generators and tarps to be distributed in the Gulf region, if necessary.

The Department of Health and Human Services has medical teams and supplies ready to go, and the Army Corps of Engineers says it's installing temporary structures to protect the Inner Harbor Navigation Channel in New Orleans.

That city, which was flooded three years ago, is also preparing for a mandatory evacuation if it appears that Gustav is headed its way. Officials say they will be able to transport about 30,000 people on buses and trains if they don't have their own transportation. Unlike during Hurricane Katrina, there are no plans to allow people to take shelter in buildings such as the city's convention center.

Officials are trying to show that they have learned the lessons of Katrina. They insist they are much more coordinated and better prepared than they were three years ago, when the government's response to the storm was chaotic. FEMA held a video teleconference Thursday with representatives from several dozen federal, state and local emergency response agencies. It is one of several such calls expected in the coming days.

FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson reminded those on the call that they need to follow the chain of command, something that wasn't done three years ago. He said much was at stake.

"Most important, I think, we need to inspire some confidence. I think we need to inspire confidence within FEMA of our own people," he said. "We need to inspire confidence in the federal family with our state and local partners. And most importantly, inspire the confidence of the American public."

Federal officials acknowledge that despite all the precautions, there could be problems, depending on the strength and direction of the storm. Several thousand people still live in travel trailers along the Gulf Coast, and they are especially vulnerable to high winds and storms.

While levees in New Orleans have been strengthened, the work is not complete. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who flew to Louisiana Thursday to meet with state and local officials, said it was important for people living in the region to take the storm seriously and to follow directions, including any orders to evacuate.

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