New Orleans Braces For Gustav

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Gustav has become a powerful category 3 hurricane heading toward Cuba. It is expected to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast Monday. Residents of New Orleans are preparing for Gustav, only three years after another category 3 hurricane, Katrina, devastated the city.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, Minnesota's Democratic senator offers advice for visiting Republicans. But first, as you just heard, Hurricane Gustav is now a category three storm. In New Orleans, evacuations begin today for people who need help getting out of the area before it hits landfall early next week. The hurricane is still in the Caribbean, too far out for meteorologists to say exactly where Gustav may hit the U.S. or how strong it will be. But learning the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, federal state and local officials have launched a detailed plan that ultimately may evacuate nearly all of Louisiana's Gulf Coast. From New Orleans, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: The latest projections show Gustav making landfall somewhere south and west of New Orleans no earlier than Monday. For state and local officials, that raises the possibility of what they're calling a double evacuation, moving people from New Orleans and also coastal parishes in Southwest Louisiana. In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin said yesterday he wasn't yet ready to order a mandatory evacuation but that residents shouldn't wait.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): I'm encouraging all citizens to start to make plans to evacuate the city over the next couple of days.

ALLEN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says it's possible nearly two million people may have to evacuate, so it's important parish authorities get an early start. The first part of New Orleans' evacuation plan is beginning this morning. People who don't have a way to evacuate are being told to report to one of 17 pickup sites in the city. From there they're being taken to a central location where they'll be put on buses or trains for evacuation to states from Texas to Tennessee. Jerry Sneed, New Orleans' head of emergency preparedness, is a retired Marine colonel. With Marine precision, he says he expects to evacuate 30,000 people and get it done within 24 hours. What's more, he says, the city will use a Web-based system to process and keep track of every one of those evacuees.

Colonel JERRY SNEED (Head, New Orleans Emergency Preparedness; Retired Marine Colonel): We should - if this thing works as we hope it does and technology is where it should be, we should be able to know, and I can tell the mayor where every one of his citizens are in anywhere across the United States this time.

ALLEN: That's how it's expected to work today in New Orleans.

Unidentified Woman: OK, you're going to need that on. OK, that's going to be your identification. And if you have any luggage...

ALLEN: Yesterday in St. Charles Parish, southwest of New Orleans, officials there got a head start on the evacuation process. Buses collected elderly and others who needed assistance, and brought them to a central spot where they were processed and sent on to a shelter in St. Martinville, about 120 miles away. Parish Councilman Shelley Tastet said because Gustav is projected to hit to the west, the area is in danger from significant storm surge.

Mr. SHELLEY TASTET (Councilman, St. Charles Parish): We might have six or seven foot of water in our subdivisions over here. That's the worst scenario. That's why we're trying to get as much people - as many people convinced to get out and move out if they can.

ALLEN: Do you think most people are aware of that scenario?

Mr. TASTET: Everybody is. After Katrina, everybody - you don't have to tell them twice to leave and they're gone.

ALLEN: Many of the people taking buses to the shelter in St. Martinville had been there before, during Katrina. Jean Cheadham(ph) said the people there treated them like kings and queens. I asked her if deciding to leave her home was difficult.

Ms. JEAN CHEADHAM: Sure, it is. You get tired of evacuating. But it wasn't hard because we had somebody to drive us. So it's all right, considering. It's OK.

ALLEN: St. Charles Parish and a few other low-lying coastal parishes are ordering all residents to leave today. Unless Gustav grants Louisiana a last-minute reprieve, mandatory evacuation will probably begin for New Orleans and surrounding communities tomorrow morning. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

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