As Gustav Nears, GOP Changes Course
Monday, September 1, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 31 -- The Gulf Coast braced Sunday for Hurricane Gustav, a storm that officials fear could devastate coastal Louisiana and parts of New Orleans that were largely spared from Hurricane Katrina's onslaught three years ago.
With landfall anticipated before midday Monday, Gustav picked up speed but lost some of its strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters said the changes could weaken the storm's punch, and they expressed optimism that the predictions of flooding in the city might not come to pass. Still, they cautioned that Gustav's path and projected 115-mph winds could fluctuate, and they issued a hurricane warning from southeastern Texas to the Alabama-Florida border.
Gustav is a "big, ugly storm," said New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D), who imposed a mandatory evacuation notice and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Anyone caught outside after dark would be arrested, he added.
On its current path, Gustav will pass west of the city, creating a storm surge that threatens to overtop the fragile levee system in that part of New Orleans that held fast during Katrina. Katrina roared through east of New Orleans in 2005, breaching floodwalls and inundating the eastern part of the city, including the Lower Ninth Ward.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said 1.9 million Louisianans -- 95 percent of the state's coastal residents -- have evacuated. Mississippi and Alabama also issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal areas. About 10,000 older residents and people without transportation were evacuated from Texas's coastal areas, and Gov. Rick Perry (R) said the state was prepared to receive 45,000 evacuees from Louisiana.
Even before it hit, Gustav appeared to have claimed its first victims. Officials cited unconfirmed reports that three critically ill patients died while being evacuated from Louisiana hospitals.
About 80 percent of oil production in the gulf had been shut down as companies pulled personnel from the offshore rigs that dot the waters off Louisiana and Texas, many of them lying directly in the storm's path. Analysts said the shutdown and damage to oil facilities could cause retail gasoline prices to jump.
President Bush, who was criticized for what some called his lackluster response to Katrina, met Sunday with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he would travel to Texas on Monday to visit the state's Emergency Operations Center in Austin and to view relief efforts in San Antonio.
As hundreds of thousands fled the oncoming storm, highways jammed and streets emptied across the Gulf Coast. Hotels and other businesses closed. Police and National Guard units patrolled the streets of cities throughout coastal Louisiana. In the New Orleans area, all lanes of highways were used for outbound traffic as people sought to escape the hurricane. The process appeared to be going smoothly, and Nagin said the highways would return to normal operation by midnight Sunday.
At 11 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, Gustav was centered about 220 miles southeast of New Orleans and moving northwest at about 16 mph.
Earlier in the day, Rusty Mullin, his girlfriend and her son were sitting at a New Orleans train station waiting to head home to Madison, Ala. They had been vacationing in the city but were kicked out of their hotel Sunday morning and stranded with no means of transportation.
"There's a train leaving between 10 and 11 today, and we're getting on that train," Mullin said. "I don't like taking 'no' for an answer."