August 30, 2008

Gustav Puts New Orleans on Alert


By Becky Bohrer

The Associated Press


Police with bullhorns plan to go street to street this weekend with a tough message about getting out ahead of Hurricane Gustav: This time there will be no shelter of last resort. The doors to the Superdome will be locked. Those who stay will be on their own.

Forecasts Friday made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit - direct or indirect - by early next week. That raised the likelihood people would have to flee, and the city suggested a full-scale evacuation call could come as soon as Sunday.

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.

As Katrina approached in 2005, as many as 30,000 people who either could not or would not evacuate jammed the Louisiana Superdome and the riverfront convention center. They spent days waiting for rescue . Some died.

This time, the city 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.

Officials also plan to announce a curfew that will mean the arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation order goes out.

P olice planned to roam neighborhoods today, directing residents- in-need to pick up points. The city planned to reach out to churches to spread the word about bus pick ups.

In an effort to keep track of where people go after they leave the city, officials planned to give evacuees who provided authorities their information ahead of time bar-coded bracelets containing their ID.

Advocates for the poor worried that the message would not get to the city's most marginalized residents .

"It's an enormous concern " for day laborers, the homeless, renters and public-housing residents, said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. "Hundreds if not thousands will fall through the cracks of an evacuation plan ."

Gustav strengthened into a hurricane Friday and appeared to stay on track to hit the Cayman Islands, then western Cuba before moving into the warm waters of the Gulf bound for the U.S. coastline early next week.

FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson said Friday that he anticipated a "huge number" of Gulf Coast residents will be told to leave the region this weekend.

Those in most need of help - the elderly, sick, and those without transportation - will be moved first. Mayor Ray Nagin said buses and trains would begin to evacuate those people beginning early this morning.

Several parishes announced plans for evacuations beginning today. By early Sunday, Nagin said, officials would look at the potential for a mandatory evacuation.

Mississippi had already called for the evacuation of residents along the Katrina-scarred coast, many of whom still live in temporary housing. In Louisiana, residents of low-lying Grande Isle were under a voluntary evacuation order beginning Friday.

Making the decision about when and where to evacuate was tough. Gustav confounded officials as its forecast track shifted through the day, confronting them with the possibility of ordering evacuations across more than 200 miles of vulnerable coastline. Johnson said officials in four states - Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas - planned evacuations.


The big airlines have issued weather waivers in the area hit by Gustav, most allowing travelers to shift tickets for free to another day and, sometimes, to another destination.

What travelers should know:

* Watch for airport closures and government restrictions. Dates and destinations covered by waivers can change, so check airline Web sites for updates.

* Changing destinations is more likely than changing dates to result in a higher fare, and changes often can be made only once before fees apply.

* Airlines sometimes shift service to nearby cities, or add unscheduled flights to help people leave an area where a storm is headed.

more coverage

The oil industry girds for its first big post-Katrina test as telecoms work on backup plans. Business section, Page 2

Originally published by BY BECKY BOHRER.

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