New Orleans residents get out of town as Gustav looms
- Story Highlights
- Interstate 55, a major route out of the city, was packed with cars
- “I’m getting out of here. I can’t take another hurricane,” said a 59-year-old resident
- Gustav could strike anywhere from Florida to Texas by Tuesday, forecasters said
- Official evacuation of coastal parishes started Saturday, said Gov. Bobby Jindal
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) — As New Orleans officials detailed plans for an evacuation that could be called over the weekend, some residents weren’t waiting to be told to leave.
Cars packed with clothes, boxes and pet carriers drove north among heavy traffic on Interstate 55, a major route out of the city. Gas stations around the city hummed. And nursing homes and hospitals began sending patients farther inland.
“I’m getting out of here. I can’t take another hurricane,” said Ramona Summers, 59, whose house flooded during Katrina. She hurried to help friends gather their belongings. Her car was already packed for Gonzales, Louisiana, nearly 60 miles away to the west of New Orleans.
Gustav swelled into a major hurricane south of Cuba on Saturday and could strike the U.S. coast anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas by Tuesday, but forecasters said there is a better-than-even chance that New Orleans will get slammed by at least tropical-storm-force winds.
That raised the likelihood people will have to flee, and the city suggested a full-scale evacuation call could come as soon as Sunday.
Police and firefighters were set to go street-to-street with bull horns over the weekend to direct people to leave. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, there will be no shelter of last resort in the Superdome.
Those among New Orleans’ estimated 310,000 to 340,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept “all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones,” the city’s emergency preparedness director, Jerry Sneed, has warned.
Officials plan to announce a curfew that will mean the arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation order goes out. Police and National Guardsman will patrol after the storm’s arrival, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he requested additional search and rescue teams from other states.
Evacuation of coastal parishes was likely to start on Saturday, said Gov. Bobby Jindal. In St. Mary Parish, which hugs the coastline, the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival — the state’s oldest chartered harvest festival usually held over the Labor Day weekend– has been canceled, officials said.
Meanwhile, Jindal said the state would likely switch interstate lanes on Sunday so that all traffic would flow north, in the direction an evacuation would follow.
For the third day in a row, Jindal stressed that people with the means should stock up on food, water and other essentials, and prepare to head away from the coast.
“We all still have personal responsibility,” he said. “Now’s the time to begin making evacuation plans.”
Gustav strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane early Saturday with top winds up to 120 mph as it headed for western Cuba. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it was a dangerous storm and could strengthen further once it gets over the warm waters of the Gulf bound for the U.S. coastline early next week.
At 5 a.m. EDT, Gustav’s center was about 255 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba .
New Orleans has taken steps to ensure no one has an excuse not to leave. The state has a $7 million contract to provide 700 buses to evacuate the elderly, the sick and anyone around the region without transportation.
LSU’s Health Care Services Division began moving patients Friday from its hospitals to facilities north of Interstate 10. A complete evacuation from Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma and Dr. Walter O. Moss Regional medical Center in Lake Charles should be finished by Saturday evening.
Partial evacuations are scheduled for hospitals in Bogalusa and New Orleans and University Medical Center in Lafayette has been placed on alert.
The entire Louisiana National Guard, over 7,000 members, was activated on Friday. Over 1,500 were sent to New Orleans to assist with evacuations and prevent looting.
Gov. Jindal sought to reassure New Orleans residents, who recall rampant looting during Katrina, that the Guard and New Orleans police would fight any recurrence.
“We don’t want folks worrying about their property. It is time for people to be worried about their personal safety,” Jindal said.
Authorities also wanted to avoid creating any unnecessary panic.
In New Orleans, the locations of the evacuation buses were not made public because people who need a ride are supposed to go to designated pickup points, not to the staging area.
But that approach worried some residents. Elouise Williams, 68, said she called the city’s 311 hot line Thursday until she was “blue in the face.”
She was concerned about getting a ride to the pickup point and about what would happen to those who left. As of late Friday afternoon, she planned to remain in the Algiers neighborhood and look in on any other residents who stayed behind.