Republicans scrambled Sunday to avoid a repeat of the political fallout from Katrina. As Hurricane Gustav approached New Orleans, the party's presidential hopefuls cancelled their pre-convention plans in order to visit Mississippi.
The nightmare of Hurricane Katrina was haunting Republicans again on Sunday, as a new monster storm bore down on the US Gulf Coast, on the eve of their national convention.
President George W. Bush's administration was slammed for its poor handling of Katrina, which crushed poorly-built levees in New Orleans, destroying tens of thousands of homes and killing nearly 1,500 people on August 29, 2005.
It was a huge stain on the Bush administration, and helped fuel a decline in the president's popularity which now risks sapping votes away from the Republicans in the November 4 presidential elections.
Eager to avoid any images of cheering Republicans being juxtaposed with scenes of misery and devastation on television screens around the nation, party officials were anxiously tracking the path of Hurricane Gustav.
Republican White House candidate John McCain, who has sought to distance his campaign from the Bush administration by vowing to usher in an era of change, late Saturday announced he would veer off his campaign route to make a detour to Mississippi.
He and vice presidential hopeful, Sarah Palin, would visit the southern state on Sunday to inspect the preparations.
Desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2005 catastrophe, New Orleans began mandatory evacuations Saturday as the people braced for the arrival of Gustav hailed as "the mother of all storms."
Bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged roads leading out of the city and shops began running low on fuel and emergency supplies as the 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. "If you are stubborn, if you are not taking this seriously and if you decide to stay, you are on your own. There will be no services available for you."
The Big Easy has still not completed rebuilding three years after 80 percent of the city was swamped by floodwaters as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters). And only just about half of the city's residents have returned, with areas of the city left to rot and ruin.
In 2005, tens of thousands spent days stranded without food or sanitation on rooftops, highways overpasses and temporary shelters in shocking scenes of chaos and misery which stunned the world.
Earlier McCain warned Hurricane Gustav could force the suspension of the convention set to formally nominate him as the standard-bearer to take on Democrat Barack Obama on November.
"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," McCain told Fox News.
"So we're monitoring it from day-to-day and I'm saying a few prayers, too."
Republican officials here had said earlier the convention would go ahead.
"There are no plans for any postponement," said Mike Miller, convention director for operations.
White House spokesman Carton Carroll also said Bush had not so far changed his plans to address the convention on Monday.
"It is true that we are monitoring the situation, of course, and there is a chance we can change the schedule, but at this time we have not made any changes," he said.
But with both sides aware that the storm could provide political capital, Obama said Saturday his campaign was "deeply concerned" about Gustav's approach.
"I've instructed my Senate staff to monitor the situation closely.
"You know, obviously we're going to be each day seeing what happens and we're praying for New Orleans but we want to make sure that people are making all the necessary precautions."
It was not yet clear whether Obama and his running-mate Joseph Biden might also make an unscheduled stop in Mississippi.
Date created : 2008-08-31