New Orleans Residents Evacuate As Gustav Looms

Residents are fleeing New Orleans in buses, trains, planes and cars as Hurricane Gustav strengthens and barrels toward the U.S. Gulf Coast. Gustav has already killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean, and is forecasted to make landfall on Louisiana's central coast Monday afternoon.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Hurricane Gustav has (unintelligible) into a monster. By tomorrow, forecasters warn that it could be a Category 5 storm, with winds upwards of 160 miles an hour. The projected storm track has Gustav slamming the shore west of New Orleans on Monday. A hurricane watch has just been issued for a large swath of the Gulf Coast from Texas to the Alabama-Florida border. The predictions come almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Today, the city's mayor Ray Nagin asked tourists to leave the city.

Mr. RAY NAGIN (Mayor, New Orleans): I am strongly, strongly encouraging everyone in the city to evacuate. Start the process now.

LYDEN: There's no mandatory evacuation order yet but roads and the train station are jammed with people getting out of town. NPR's Greg Allen is at the Amtrak station in New Orleans. Greg, what's happening? Is it a crazy scene?

GREG ALLEN: You've said it, Jacki. It is very - a little bit chaotic here. Since 8:00 a.m. this morning the city's been helping people who don't have cars or other transportation of their own, been helping them get out of the city. And so it's a plan that has people first go to one of 17 pickup sites in the city and there they're picked up on city buses and brought here, as you say, to the Amtrak terminal.

They're brought inside, processed and put on either buses or trains and then they're sent out of the city up to safe areas where they can find shelter.

LYDEN: And where are they going? Are they staying with relatives or is this something set up in advance?

ALLEN: Well, there's basically two groups here. You've got people who go in and take trains. The trains are all headed to Memphis and so they'll be taking -going to shelters mostly in the Tennessee area. And that includes people who have medical needs 'cause there's EMTs on the trains. Very well organized. And then, of course, the rest of the people going up on buses will be heading up to central and northern Louisiana.

The state has secured a number of shelter beds up there - at least 78,000 they said, with more available if needed. So, people who are leaving here today, many of them will be going to those shelters in Alexandria and other areas up there in central Louisiana.

LYDEN: Greg, you've been talking to a lot of people. What are they saying?

ALLEN: Well, it's interesting, Jacki, 'cause many people I spoke to today are people who say that they stayed here during Hurricane Katrina last time -people like this gentleman who I spoke to today at the train station, Matthew Ramsey(ph).

Mr. MATTHEW RAMSEY (New Orleans Resident): I used to be a diehard stay until Katrina - never left 'til Katrina. You know, this time you didn't have to tell me twice.

ALLEN: And I've heard that over and over again. People I talk to say they stayed here; it was not a pleasant time. They're all taking the mayor's advice, taking Governor Bobby Jindal's advice and getting out of town as quickly as possible. So, this is something that residents here seemed to have gotten the message on. They've learned their lesson and they're leaving.

LYDEN: If you had to sum up the mood in a word, Greg, would you say that people are stoic or panicky or resigned? What would you say?

ALLEN: I would not say there's really much panic. People are just taking this very business-like. It does not seem like New Orleans, to be honest. It's such a world away from what we saw during Katrina three years ago - being done very business-like, very methodically. Even people who don't have their own way out of town, they're just doing this in a way that is just by the book.

LYDEN: NPR's Greg Allen from New Orleans. Thanks very much. We'll be watching it.

ALLEN: Thank you, Jacki.

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