- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mandatory evacuations are under way along the Gulf Coast Sunday morning as more than a million residents race to escape the wrath of Hurricane Gustav.

The storm weakened to a Category 3 when it struck Cuba Saturday, but forecasters say it is pulsating and will regain strength as a Category 4 storm after it enters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico later this afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning at 7 a.m. Sunday for the northern Gulf Coast from Cameron Parish LA eastward to the Alabama and Florida border, including the City of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

Forecasters say Hurricane Gustav is expected to make landfall with 145 wind gusts just after midnight on Monday just 50 miles West of New Orleans.

Winds from the large tropical cyclone have extended outward of 50 miles.

Hurricane warnings are also in effect for Texas, while Florida is bracing for a tropical storm.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the warning said.

In ordering the mandatory evacuations, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav “the mother of all storms.”

“You need to be scared and you need to be concerned and you need to get your butts out of New Orleans right now,” Mr. Nagin said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will ride out the storm in Louisiana, and told reporters before departing Andrews Air Force Base that he will be in constant communication with President Bush.

“We hope the storm will diminish a little, but we have to be prepared for the worst,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“And we are prepared for the worst,” said Mr. Chertoff, who predicted New Orleans will see some level of flooding.

Mr. Chertoff also warned that it would be “extremely foolish” not to evacuate the affected states.

“This is going to be a very tough event,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, will make a detour on his way to the Republican National Convention and meet with Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to discuss ongoing emergency preparations.

President Bush, who was scheduled to speak at the convention Monday night, is also reconsidering whether he will attend.

Fran Townsend, former White House homeland security advisor, told CNN that local and federal officials have no confidence that levees on the West Bank of New Orleans can withstand the hurricane force winds or the anticipated 20-foot surge, and predicted the city will see extensive flooding.

Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, did not mince words Sunday morning as he announced the mandatory evacuation and a curfew that will allow police and military officials to treat those staying behind as a “suspicious person” who will be treated in an “aggressive” manner.

“Mandatory evacuation means you are totally on your own,” Mr. Broussard said. “Count on no parish or state services, none will be provided.

“We need you to leave and we need you to leave today,” Mr. Broussard said. “You cannot protect yourself from what Mother Nature is going to throw at us.”

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