New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered the evacuation of the city starting on Sunday to prepare for Hurricane Gustav, or what he called "the storm of the century" in a press conference at City Hall.
Desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2005 Katrina catastrophe, residents of New Orleans evacuated their city Sunday as a new hurricane hailed as "the mother of all storms" threatened the disaster-scarred metropolis.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged roads leading out of the city and shops began running low on fuel and emergency supplies as the "monster" Category Four hurricane barreled toward the Gulf of Mexico after leaving more than 80 people dead and thousands displaced in Caribbean nations.
"This is the mother of all storms," New Orleans hurricane-weary Mayor Ray Nagin told a press conference. "This storm is so powerful and growing more powerful every day that I'm not sure we've seen anything like it."
Nagin made it clear he wanted the entire city of New Orleans evacuated by Sunday.
"We want everybody... we want 100 percent evacuation," he said. "If you decide to stay, you are on your own."
Gustav was forecast to plow headlong into the US Gulf Coast on Monday packing torrential rains, winds of 150 miles (242 kilometers) per hour and potentially catastrophic storm surges.
"It will be miserable if we stay, no water, no power," resident Maria Chopin said as she and her children loaded food and other supplies into a car outside a shopping market before leaving town.
Meteorologists tracking Gustav forecast it to reach Category 5 superstorm status in the Gulf of Mexico, before dropping back to Category 4 by landfall on the Gulf Coast.
"But whether it is a Category 4 or 5, it is extremely dangerous either way," National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecaster Chris Landsea told AFP by phone.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal minced no words Saturday, warning that Gustav could cause "flooding that is worse than what we saw with Katrina."
"This storm could be as bad as it gets when it comes to the effect on the Louisiana coast," Jindal said.
Neighboring New Orleans area parishes began mandatory evacuations on Saturday, as the NHC issued a hurricane watch from east Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama east to the Florida state line.
By noon, New Orleans had bused out about 1,200 people and another 1,500 were taken out by train. People carrying pets and luggage queued through the day at a train and bus station converted to an evacuation center dubbed "The Gate."
Animal rescue volunteer Brittany Marble was part of a crew packing people's pets into crates to be trucked to safety.
"We learned from last time," Marble said. "They don't want to leave without their dogs. I can't blame them; I wouldn't leave without mine."
Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish, was calling for evacuation. The parish was one of the areas of greater New Orleans to call for mandatory evacuations three years after Hurricane Katrina breached levees protecting the low-lying city, killing some 1,800 people across the Gulf Coast.
"We know this is a very difficult decision. Emotions are very high, but we have to take a practical approach to this," he said.
Nagin said the city will be locked down after people evacuate, and that the 1,500 police officers and up to 2,000 National Guard on hand were "double the amount of protection" during Katrina.
Police officers abandoned their posts when Katrina hit, leaving New Orleans virtually lawless until National Guard units arrived.
Residents were warned that the city would not have emergency shelters, and that gathering areas such as the Superdome and bus terminal -- scenes of chaos and violence after Katrina -- are closed.
As some residents boarded up windows and piled sandbags to build temporary levees, others boarded buses while shoppers crowded grocery stores to grab provisions for the weekend.
"It's better organized this time," said Naomi Brown as she unpacked a shop's last box of batteries.
"During Katrina, not one thing was organized -- it was a state of panic and havoc."
The New Orleans airport said it will shut down Sunday evening.
The overall population of greater New Orleans is estimated at more than one million people, about 80 percent of the pre-Katrina population.
President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, Texas and Alabama, empowering federal authorities to lead disaster relief efforts there.
On Saturday, Bush called the states' governors to discuss preparations for Gustav and pledge "full" federal support, said spokesman Scott Stanzel.
Bush's approval ratings in 2005 plummeted amid widespread criticism that he paid too little attention to Katrina, whose floodwaters rose as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) and swallowed around 80 percent of New Orleans.
Date created : 2008-08-31