New Orleans Eyes Gustav On Katrina Anniversary National Guardsmen are on standby on this third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as Tropical Storm Gustav makes its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast. In New Orleans, officials said a mandatory evacuation might be necessary.
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New Orleans Eyes Gustav On Katrina Anniversary

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New Orleans Eyes Gustav On Katrina Anniversary

New Orleans Eyes Gustav On Katrina Anniversary

New Orleans Eyes Gustav On Katrina Anniversary

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at a news conference with government officials at New Orleans City Hall. The city is preparing for Tropical Storm Gustav on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Pat Semansky/Getty Images hide caption

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Pat Semansky/Getty Images

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at a news conference with government officials at New Orleans City Hall. The city is preparing for Tropical Storm Gustav on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Pat Semansky/Getty Images

On this third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is holding a ceremonial burial service for more than 80 unidentified victims of the disaster.

But as Tropical Storm Gustav makes its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, the city has canceled most of its plans for Friday.

Forecasters say Gustav could develop into a major hurricane, and officials in Texas and Louisiana have put their National Guardsmen on standby. In New Orleans, officials said a mandatory evacuation might be necessary.

The city has prepared for hurricanes before, but never like this. For days now, ever since Gustav was identified as a threat to the Gulf Coast, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has given detailed updates of what the state is doing to get ready.

Louisiana has contracted 700 buses, a fleet that can evacuate as many as 35,000 people from the city. It has nearly 200 ambulances. It has identified 78,000 shelter beds, and has pre-positioned hundreds of thousands of pre-packaged meals and liters of water.

At a briefing Thursday night in New Orleans, Jindal said more than 1,500 Louisiana National Guard troops would be in New Orleans by Friday.

"They'll be arriving in New Orleans to assist in securing the city to help our citizens to make sure they are prepared to begin evacuating their homes should this evacuation — when this evacuation is triggered," Jindal said.

Preparations Now, Not After The Storm

Forecasters say this far out, it's difficult to know where on the Gulf Coast Gustav will hit. Neither can they predict how strong the storm will be.

Although landfall is not expected before Monday, Jindal said phased evacuation beginning with low-lying counties could begin as early as Friday.

Standing with Jindal at the briefing in New Orleans was Mayor Ray Nagin, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA head David Paulison.

Paulison said the actions that are being taken now — before the storm — were things that happened after the storm when Katrina hit three years ago.

"Buses are here now, not after the storm. Ambulances are here now, not after the storm. Urban search and rescue teams are here now, not after the storm. Communications equipment [and] generators are here now, not after the storm," Paulison said. "This is a total change from what we did in the past to what we're doing now."

There is one important thing in New Orleans, though, that is still not ready for a powerful hurricane, and that's the city's flood control system. Although billions of dollars have been spent raising levees, repairing floodwalls and installing floodgates on the canals, much more work remains to be done.

With Gustav approaching, contractors with the Army Corps of Engineers are working feverishly to fill in the gaps.

On a section of the industrial canal near Lake Pontchartrain, work crews are using backhoes and bulldozers to fill huge baskets with sand. It's a stopgap effort to shore up a section of the levee where repairs aren't complete and it is still vulnerable to a storm surge.

Mandatory Evacuation?

Several blocks away, in the Gentilly neighborhood, Germain Thompson picked up hurricane supplies at a Rouse's supermarket. He said if there is a mandatory citywide evacuation, he will leave.

"[I'm] just getting what you gotta get. Get your supplies and everything — your water and all that, make sure you've got gas in your car, make sure your gas is straight," Thompson said. "So when the time come[s] to leave, you've got to straight up and just leave. That's about it."

There are plenty of signs that people in New Orleans are not taking Gustav lightly. Mayor Nagin said about 50,000 stayed behind during Katrina, a storm in which nearly 2,000 people died. This time if there's a mandatory evacuation, he hopes to get everyone out of the city.

Nagin said anyone who is thinking about ignoring an evacuation order should consider Friday's anniversary and the commemoration of the city's unknown victims.

"We will be burying 80 bodies from Hurricane Katrina. This is serious business. We would not be calling for a mandatory evacuation unless we thought there was a serious threat," Nagin said. "And I think most people will pay heed to that."

But Nagin also said there is another consideration: If state and local authorities order a mandatory evacuation, it's important that they be firm but flexible.

"This is a different type of event. This is coming on the heels of the worst natural and man-made disaster, and there are still lots of people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said.

State and local authorities said they will watch Gustav's development and may announce a timetable for evacuation later Friday.