New Orleanians Head For Safe, Dry Ground
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. A hurricane warning extends over much of the northern Gulf Coast today. Hurricane Gustav appears to be on a path that threatens New Orleans and much of southern Louisiana. It's already a powerful storm, and meteorologists say as it enters the Gulf of Mexico it may strengthen to a category four. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he expects as many as two million people will evacuate in his state alone. In New Orleans, a mandatory evacuation has been ordered for all of the city's 300,000 residents. From New Orleans, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Gustav is not expected to make landfall before late Monday. But for days now, Governor Bobby Jindal has held detailed and increasingly alarming briefings warning residents about the impending threat.
Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): This is a very, very strong storm. Given the projection, given the track, given the potential for storm surge, we recommend that everybody in these coastal parishes evacuate, get out of harm's way, heed the local advice.
ALLEN: There's every sign people in New Orleans and surrounding communities are taking the advice very seriously.
Mr. ARNIE FIELKOW (City Councilman, New Orleans): They're moving as fast as they can inside. Once you get inside, it'll be pretty quick.
ALLEN: City Councilman Arnie Fielkow was one of those helping out at the train and bus station yesterday where thousands of people boarded buses and trains for evacuation to shelters out of the danger zone. City officials believe as many as 30,000 New Orleanians don't have transportation of their own to get out of the city. They've spent months and millions of dollars developing a plan which yesterday ran smoothly. Robert Hall(ph) was one of the thousands waiting at the station. Like many I spoke to, he said he stayed behind when Katrina hit the city three years ago.
(Soundbite of interview)
Mr. ROBERT HALL (New Orleans Resident): But I wouldn't want to stay this time. It was too hot. Then it was stanking(ph), you know, the food rotten and everything, no trash pickup or nothing.
ALLEN: It was not a pleasant place?
Mr. HALL: It wasn't. The last time, it wasn't. There was no time getting there. Today it was no problem.
ALLEN: While New Orleans yesterday evacuated people who needed help, surrounding parishes took it a step further. Low-lying coastal parishes in southern Louisiana began ordering all of their citizens to leave. In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered that mandatory evacuation of his city would begin today. But given Gustav's intensity, a hurricane that he called the mother of all storms, he said residents shouldn't wait to leave.
Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): I am strongly, strongly encouraging everyone in the city to evacuate. Start the process now. Go north if you can, because the storm may continue to turn a little bit west. So if you can go north, that would be good. My message today is to tourists, in addition. It's time for you to leave the city.
ALLEN: By mid-afternoon yesterday it was clear that New Orleanians had taken his message to heart. Hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets shut down. Neighborhood streets began to empty while interstates out of town were jam-packed. It was a repeat of the scene three years ago when Katrina upended life in the Big Easy, changing the city forever. At the train station, Stephanie Bernard(ph) was waiting for her ride out of town. I asked her the question many are wondering. What if Gustav is as bad as Katrina?
Ms. STEPHANIE BERNARD (New Orleans Resident): I don't think I can take another one of Katrina. You know, the movement, the impact of it. It was - I mean, we still carry a lot of wounds from Katrina. Even if you're holding them in, you still carry them. And I don't think I can do it again. I can't go through it again.
ALLEN: Current projections call for Gustav to make landfall south and west of New Orleans. Even if there's not a direct hit on the city, Gustav still poses a real threat to New Orleans with wind speeds potentially as high as 140 miles per hour in a storm surge that could top 20 feet. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.
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