Sunday, August 31, 2008

The People of New Orleans Have Been Ordered to Evacuate

New Orleans ordered to evacuate

Shop owners have boarded up their windows in New Orleans ahead of the storm

The mayor of New Orleans has ordered residents out of the city ahead of the arrival of "the mother of all storms" Hurricane Gustav.

An estimated one million people have already fled the US Gulf coast.

The evacuation of New Orleans is to become mandatory at 8am (12:00 GMT) on Sunday along the vulnerable west bank of the Mississippi river, and at noon on the east bank, Ray Nagin, the city's mayor has said.

As residents carried out the evacuation, the US National Hurricane Centre downgraded Gustav to a category three, although it is expected to strengthen again before it makes landfall on Monday.

Nagin gave the order late on Saturday after the storm grew into a category four hurricane over Cuba and threatened to hit the state of Louisiana within the next 36 hours. Five is the highest category.

"We want everybody ... we want 100 per cent evacuation. If you decide to stay, you are on your own," he said.

"This storm is so powerful and growing more powerful every day that I'm not sure we've seen anything like it."

Katrina memories

New Orleans is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, when heavy rains and strong winds flooded 80 per cent of the city and killed about 1,600 people across the region.

Forecasters have warned it is still too early to say whether the city will take another direct hit.

Gustav has, so far, killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean, and if forecasts hold true, would make landfall on Monday afternoon, somewhere between East Texas and western Mississippi.

Scarred by the still-fresh memories of Katrina, roads around New Orleans were jammed and hundreds of people lined up to board buses.

William Harpur, a New Orleans evacuee, said: "I thought it's gonna hang a right, it's gonna hang a left, it's not gonna be a problem until yesterday afternoon, when they said it's in the same corridor, it’s not changing, and I thought here we go again."

Nagin estimates that about half the population has already left and admitted officials were worried that some people would try to stay.

Even before he ordered the evacuation, most hotels had closed, and the airport was preparing to follow suit.

Federal agencies, which had failed to cope with the challenge of Hurricane Katrina, say they are well prepared to handle the evacuations this time.

Energy companies, whose 4,000 platforms in the Gulf produce a quarter of US crude oil and 15 per cent of its natural gas, braced for Gustav by evacuating personnel and shutting down three-fourths of their oil production.

Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which followed it three weeks later, wrecked more than 100 Gulf oil platforms.

Convention delay

John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, and Sarah Palin, his running-mate, are due to visit Mississippi on Sunday to inspect preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav.

McCain has already warned that his party may have to suspend its convention next week, because of the storm.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a national disaster," he said.

The Republican national convention, scheduled to open on Monday in St Paul, Minnesota, would see McCain awarded official nominee status as the party's presidential candidate.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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