- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

Get out.

That was a lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina, and the plan that was put into action Sunday by federal and local officials - to evacuate residents along the Gulf Coast before Gustav slams the region Monday with hurricane-force winds in excess of 115 miles per hour.

“I can’t stop the damage from happening or the storm from coming,” said R. David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said nearly 95 percent of all coastal residents had taken the official advice and left the area. Mr. Jindal called it the “largest, unprecedented evacuation in the state.”

“We have plenty of opportunities to get people out in time, but it’s the ones who are not getting out that concern me,” Mr. Paulison said. “There should be no excuses for not evacuating.”



The storm was responsible for more than 90 deaths in the Caribbean.

New Orleans, still fragile from Katrina’s devastation three years ago, was nearly a ghost town as residents heeded warnings that the levees cannot hold back expected storm surges of 12 to 14 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers said it has sandbags ready and will operate pumps around the clock.

“If predictions are 100 percent accurate, the levees will barely hold,” Mr. Jindal said.

Mr. Jindal said three deaths were reported from hospitals moving critical care patients to safety.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said many nursing homes were not prepared and had to evacuate with the help of federal and state officials.

Forecasters said Gustav likely will make landfall early Monday morning and that the eye of the storm is projected to hit Louisiana at midday.

The storm was expected to strengthen as it churned toward the coast. The National Hurricane Center said Sunday night that Gustav was a Category 3 storm centered about 175 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Rain began falling in New Orleans before sunset Sunday, and tropical storm force winds reached the southeastern tip of the state, the Associated Press reported. The first hurricane force winds were due to arrive after early Monday morning.

Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew and said authorities will treat anyone who stays behind as a “suspicious person.”

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin also imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and said “looters will go directly to Angola,” Louisiana’s state prison.

“Looters will go directly to jail. You will not get a pass this time,” Mr. Nagin said. “You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You will go directly to the big house.”

About 50,000 National Guardsmen have been dispatched throughout the region.

Homeland Security officials said the curfew would not affect those trying to evacuate late Sunday.

Mr. Chertoff warned Sunday morning that the window to evacuate was closing. “Once you get tropical storm winds, there’s no more evacuation,” he said.

The last bus left New Orleans shortly after 3:30 p.m., but evacuations continued by rail and air. Officials hoped to have the city locked down by 10 p.m.

Mr. Chertoff said that 1.9 million out of 2 million residents along Louisiana’s coast evacuated to New Mexico, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Texas.

West of New Orleans in Houma, Mr. Chertoff wished passengers well as stragglers boarded buses for Shreveport and Dallas, the AP reported.

“I think for people who haven’t left, they really are die-hards because they’re taking their lives in their hands,” he said. “I can’t see any reason why a person staring down the barrel of a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane would want to see if they can try to outfox Mother Nature. That’s taking an awful risk with yourself and your family.”

Mr. Chertoff will stay in Baton Rouge during the storm and observe the local responses and the Coast Guard’s search and rescue operations afterward.

The mandatory evacuations began Sunday morning and extended from Texas to some portions of Alabama.

“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,” he said. “You cannot protect yourself from what Mother Nature is going to throw at us.”

Late Sunday, Mr. Jindal issued a last plea to the roughly 100,000 people still left on the coast: “If you’ve not evacuated, please do so. There are still a few hours left.”

Earlier Sunday, the National Hurricane Center extended the hurricane warning westward along the Louisiana and Texas coasts, just east of High Island, Texas, and eastward to the Alabama-Florida line, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

Gustav did not reorganize as well as it could have after striking Cuba, “which is good news for Louisiana,” said Mr. Jindal, who warned that tropical-force winds were expected to begin just after midnight.

“But I don’t want people to get a false sense of security. There is still a high threat of tornadoes. This is still a very dangerous storm, with winds over 100 miles per hour,” Mr. Jindal said.

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