Hurricane Gustav reached the US coast early Monday morning, and is reportedly just 110 km from New Orleans, heading northwest from the Louisiana coast.
The city of New Orleans turned into an eerily quiet “ghost town” following one of the largest evacuations in US history as Hurricane Gustav hurtled toward the southern US state of Louisiana Monday.
Nearly two million Louisiana residents, many of whom witnessed Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005, have fled their homes as power outages were reported in scattered neighbourhoods late Sunday.
“It’s like a ghost town,” said FRANCE 24’s Nathan King, reporting from the French quarter in New Orleans. “At least 80% of the population has left the city, but tens of thousands have stayed back to take care of businesses and homes,” he added.
The outer edge of the storm, which killed at least 86 people across the Caribbean over the past few days, reached the US Gulf of Mexico coast early Monday and is expected to make a landfall west of New Orleans during the day.
Gustav packed sustained winds of 185km (115 miles) per hour, making it a Category Three storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters predict a slight strengthening as Gustav's eye powered across the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast but said the storm was no longer expected to be a Category Four hurricane.
Reporting from New Orleans, King said rains lashed the city early Monday. “We got some terrible rain,” he explained. “The skies went black – literally in seconds - and we had a downpour for about half-an-hour.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warned Gustav would be “a serious storm” and said that search and rescue efforts were already in full swing.
‘Boots on the ground, eyes on the ground’
Haunted by the chaotic post-Katrina aftermath, Louisiana authorities have deployed 750 National Guard troops on the ground in New Orleans for rescue efforts.
"We've got ... boots on the ground, eyes on the ground. So before that, even before we can get into the air, before we can get boats on the water, we do have people on the ground to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to save every single life," said Jindal.
The levees that failed to protect New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina are another major cause of concern. Although authorities say the levees are stronger than before, experts say a storm surge of up to 14 feet (4.3 metres) could once again burst them.
On Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a sundown curfew in the city and warned against looting and crime, a major problem faced during Hurricane Katrina.
Forecasters expect Gustav to swamp parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas with up to 12 inches of rain and spin off isolated tornadoes.
Flights from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities were canceled on Monday amid the brewing storm.
The approaching hurricane also forced the shutdown of almost all oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, boosting world oil prices. Dozens of oil plants including the country’s two largest facilities, Exxon Mobil's Baytown, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana were forced to reduce processing rates.
Hurricane wrecks Republican convention plans
Hurricane Gustav spelt a bad start for the four-day Republican convention, which is due to start Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Most of the opening day convention activities and speeches were suspended.
Republican presumptive candidate John McCain and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are due to be nominated as the party’s nominees for November’s presidential poll.
All celebration and festivities were shelved out of deference to the approaching threat of Hurricane Gustav. An airplane was also chartered to ferry worried delegates from Gulf Coast states back home to prepare for the storm.
On Sunday, McCain visited a hurricane command center on Sunday. "I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated," McCain said by satellite from St. Louis after being briefed on storm preparations in the region.
US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also canceled their plans to attend the convention. Bush is due to travel to Texas to monitor the storm relief efforts, after he was heavily criticized for his failure to respond to the devastation three years ago.
Date created : 2008-09-01