New Orleans Prepares For Gustav

Gulf Coast states prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav, after it inflicted floods and landslides on the island of Hispaniola.
By Mike Perlstein and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 30, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 29 -- With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on this still-recovering region, officials on Friday took the first steps in extensive evacuation plans, hoping the lessons learned three years ago during Hurricane Katrina will avert the chaos that followed.

Officials in Washington and in New Orleans expressed confidence that construction of massive floodgates would provide adequate protection against Gustav, which had top winds of 80 mph late Friday and is expected to hit the Gulf Coast by early Tuesday. Officials also predicted that plans for removing residents, maintaining public order and avoiding disruption of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico would go smoothly.

"There are phenomenal improvements at the federal level, at the state level and local level that we're going to benefit from, and [that] you'll be able to watch and see as a result," said Harvey E. Johnson Jr., deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Still, implementation of the blueprints drawn up after Katrina, which roared ashore exactly three years ago, remains incomplete. Most notably, a flood-control system designed to protect vulnerable low-lying areas such as the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish is still years from being finished.

"We all know that the system has not been completed to withstand the 100-year-storm level, which is set to be in place by 2011," said Tim Doody, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority. "But the system is better than it was pre-Katrina. We are cautiously optimistic."

The city of New Orleans said late Friday that it had completed the relocation of more than 2,100 parish prison inmates and that medical evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes were underway.

Louisiana began moving vulnerable populations such as nursing home residents and hospital patients Friday, Johnson said. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama would begin urging residents to move inland Saturday, followed by mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas Sunday, he said.

"All states will begin evacuations tomorrow," said Johnson, a retired Coast Guard vice admiral. "Some states are doing medical evacuations today."

President Bush declared a state of emergency for Louisiana and Texas, clearing the way for federal aid in addition to state and local efforts, officials said. Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have also issued their own state emergency and disaster declarations and alerted National Guard units.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush has received continuous briefings on the storm, but reiterated that it was too early to say whether it would alter his plans to address the Republican National Convention on Monday in St. Paul, Minn.

Officials were not the only ones caught unprepared when Katrina hit in 2005, eventually causing more than 1,800 deaths and flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. Many residents did not heed the warnings about the danger of the approaching storm. This time, however, seems different.

While government agencies and schools put emergency plans into effect, hurricane-hardened residents began filling their cars with gasoline, lining up at banks to get cash, stocking up on food and water, and boarding up their homes.

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