The Heat Is Online

Gustav Prompts Biggest Evacuation in U.S. History

Hurricane Gustav pounts Louisiana Coast

 

Reuters news service, Sept. 1, 2008

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Hurricane Gustav sent strong winds and lashing rains into New Orleans early on Monday, but the storm lost some of its power and was expected to move ashore to the west, sparing the city its full force.

 

Gustav weakened to a Category 2 hurricane shortly before making landfall, although it was already pounding Louisiana's coastal areas with torrential rain and hurricane force winds.

 

U.S. crude oil futures slipped to below $114 a barrel on Monday morning as fears of major damage to oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico eased.

 

Oil companies had shut down nearly all production in the region, which normally pumps a quarter of U.S. oil output and 15 percent of its natural gas, and prices had hit more than $118 per barrel in a special trading session on Sunday.

 

Nearly 2 million people fled the Gulf Coast in one of the biggest evacuations in U.S. history and only 10,000 were believed to have remained in New Orleans. More than 11 million residents in five U.S. states were threatened by the storm.

 

U.S. forecasters said Gustav was carrying maximum sustained winds of around 110 mph, making it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

 

At 9:00 a.m. EDT , it was 20 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, La., a key logistical support center for offshore oil rigs, and about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans.

 

In the city, devastated by the flood waters from Hurricane Katrina three years ago, residents on talk radio reported some power outages, but also relief that the storm seemed to be less destructive than originally feared.

 

"It looks as though it is far less than we had expected but we are just beginning to see the full force of the hurricane," said David Blake, a talk show host.

 

Hurricane Gustav also took center stage in U.S. politics as Republicans prepared to open their convention on Monday to nominate presidential candidate John McCain with a bare-bones program stripped of the usual pomp and circumstance.

 

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Gustav was still likely toss up "an extremely dangerous storm surge" of up to 14 feet that could test the holding power of rebuilt levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

 

Hurricane Katrina brought a 28-foot storm surge that burst levees on August 29, 2005 and flooded some 80 percent of New Orleans, which sits partly below sea level. The city degenerated into chaos as stranded storm victims waited days for government rescue and law

and order collapsed.

 

Police and several thousand national guard troops patrolled the empty city, sometimes in convoys of Humvees, as a curfew went into effect in a bid to prevent looting.

 

It was expected to swamp parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas with up to 12 inches of rain and 20 inches in some small areas. Isolated tornadoes were also possible.

 

FEARS OF ANOTHER KATRINA

 

Gustav's approach had stirred uneasy comparisons to Katrina, the most costly hurricane in U.S. history, which killed some 1,500 people and caused over $80 billion in damage almost exactly three years ago.

 

President George W. Bush, who was criticized for the slow relief efforts after Katrina, canceled his appearance at the Republican convention as scheduled instead a visit to Texas on Monday to oversee emergency response effort.

 

McCain went to Gulf on Sunday to survey preparations and ordered political speeches canceled on Monday for his nominating convention, apparently concerned that television images of a choreographed Republican celebration while the storm was hitting Louisiana would be seen as out of touch.

 

After accusations of botching Katrina relief efforts, the government lined up trains and hundreds of buses to evacuate 30,000 people who could not leave on their own and Nagin said 15,000 had been removed from the city, including hundreds in wheelchairs.

 

Flights from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities were canceled on Monday as the storm bore down on the region.

 

Residents boarded up the windows of their shops and homes before leaving town, while others hunkered down as "hold-outs" with stockpiled food, water and shotguns to ward off looters.

 

"I saw quite a bit of looting last time with Katrina, even 30 minutes after the winds had stopped," said construction contractor Norwood Thornton, who opted to stay behind to protect his home in New Orleans' historic Garden District.

 

In its run through the Caribbean, Gustav earlier killed at least 86 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

 

The U.S. Coast Guard reported the first storm-related death in Florida on Sunday, where a man fell overboard as his craft ran into heavy waves.

 

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

 

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN2541891320080901