Preparing for Mass Exodus As Gustav Gathers Strength

Gulf Coast states prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav, after it inflicted floods and landslides on the island of Hispaniola.
By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 29, 2008

CHALMETTE, La., Aug. 28 -- Determined to avoid the mistakes made when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, federal and state officials began preparations for massive evacuations if it becomes clear that Tropical Storm Gustav will sweep over the region with the same force as Katrina.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in New Orleans to meet with Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), said that as of Thursday afternoon, most estimates projected that Gustav, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane, would strike between Texas and Florida early next week, "with a real possibility of getting an impact in Louisiana."

Authorities cautioned that the worst effects of a major hurricane would be felt as far as 150 miles to the east of landfall, because of the rotation of wind and waves.

"We could anticipate a Category 3 hurricane," Chertoff said, "So we're talking about a very serious storm and one that should be hitting the area perhaps Monday into Tuesday."

About 3,000 National Guard troops were on standby in Louisiana, 5,000 were readying in Texas and about 65,000 were available across the Gulf states, Guard officials said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) issued a disaster declaration, and Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) pre-declared states of emergency. Chertoff said Jindal and Perry were expected to make evacuation decisions beginning Friday.

Plans call for the evacuation of tourists in New Orleans and of sick, disabled and elderly people in Texas to begin 60 hours before the projected landfall of a major hurricane, to be followed by orders for the general population living in low-lying or flood-prone coastal areas, said R. David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For many residents of the New Orleans area, the memories of Katrina, which devastated the city and killed more than 1,800 people, are still fresh.

In St. Bernard Parish, the community just east of New Orleans where every home was damaged or destroyed, residents were gassing up cars and lining up at Walgreens for prescriptions. The U-Haul store was out of rental trucks.

Gary and Karen Hansen planned to start packing their car Thursday night and had made reservations at a hotel in Baton Rouge, 80 miles north. They intended to leave their home Saturday morning.

"We got wiped out by Katrina -- everything I own," said Gary Hansen, a refinery worker. "Three years later, the same thing may happen. It's a little discouraging."

Officials in Louisiana executed contracts to use 700 school buses in support of commercial buses to evacuate people without cars, and began preparing to convert all lanes on major highways to direct traffic away from the coast if necessary.

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