Many Desert Coast In Face Of Gustav

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Hurricane Gustav has forced the evacuation of about 2 million people along the Gulf Coast. The evactuation effort was a massive undertaking.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Hurricane Gustav is moving ashore with winds that have been clocked around 115 miles per hour today. About two-million people have evacuated from New Orleans and other towns all along the Gulf Coast.

That was a huge effort that took several days, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: In Port Arthur, Texas, about 1,500 people were processed through an evacuation center. Most of them were the community's vulnerable residents: the sick, elderly and poor. Fire Department battalion chief Mike Free(ph) was exhausted Sunday evening. With bloodshot eyes, he was ready for some rest.

Chief MIKE FREE (Port Arthur Fire Department): We're used to fighting fires. We're used to doing rescues and stuff like that. And then when you come in and do something totally different, it's both physically and mentally stressful.

BRADY: Annie Burgess(ph) was here with her sister, who can't walk very well and uses a wheelchair. The center had difficulty finding buses that could take wheelchair-bound evacuees, so Burgess had to wait more than eight hours.

Ms. ANNIE BURGESS: We played dominos, listened to music and just laughed and talked, made the best of a bad situation.

BRADY: In the hours before Gustav arrived, people near Lafayette, Louisiana made last-minute preparations. For Steve Klavel(ph), that meant mowing his elderly mother's lawn. That might seem like an odd priority, but Klavel says locals are used to hurricanes.

Mr. STEVE KLAVEL: I'm just not worried. We've been through Andrew and Lili and '57 and Hurricane Audrey and, you know, and all that stuff. So I'm really not worried about it.

BRADY: Local authorities also didn't seem to worried. The parish emergency operation center declared a voluntary evacuation, not a mandatory one, but they advised people to stock up on essentials and to be prepared to stay in their houses for a couple of days.

While most stores closed and boarded up their windows Saturday, a few grocery stores remained open until the last minute. Johnny Lampas(ph) was in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly store, loading the back of his SUV with bags full of juice, water and food. He thinks authorities in some parts of the region are being overly cautious in preparing residents for this storm.

Mr. JOHNNY LAMPAS: But that's good, though. Let's hope it don't backfire on them when the next one comes, if this one drops down to being a, you know, a small storm. If it drops down to a category two, most of the people wouldn't have left, anyway.

BRADY: Authorities have addressed the boy-who-cried-wolf concerns by saying that even if Gustav isn't as strong as predicted, there's little risk in being overly cautious.

As the dark clouds from Gustav moved over the region Sunday night, Earl Roy(ph) was seeing a silver lining. Forecasters were saying the roughest part of the storm likely would arrive sometime during the day.

Mr. EARL ROY: You know, that give us a lot of option where we can see. If something happen, we know, you know, which way to go. Debris and everything will be flying. At least you can see it coming. When it's (unintelligible) night, if you step out there, you don't know what you're going to get hit with.

BRADY: That said, Roy plans to stay inside during the storm. He's already stocked up on non-perishable foods like Vienna sausages and crackers. He came back to the Piggly Wiggly for a few perishable items - just enough to least for the next day or so because he expects the electricity to go out soon. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Lafayette, Louisiana.

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