Hurricane Gustav reached the US coast early Monday morning. Two million residents living along the Gulf Coast have been asked to evacuate the area while almost all of the region's oil production has been shut down.
Oil prices rise as Gustav halts US Gulf oil production
Killer Hurricane Gustav plowed toward the US Gulf coast Sunday, as nearly two million residents fled to safety and officials shut down the area's vital oil production facilities.
The outer edge of the storm, which left scores of dead across the Caribbean over the past few days, was due to sweep the US Gulf coast within hours, prompting Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to issue an 11th hour appeal that remaining residents take advantage of a last chance to escape its fury.
"If you're hearing this, seeing this, if you've not evacuated, please do so. There's still a few hours left," Jindal told a press conference Sunday in the state capital of Baton Rouge.
"This is a serious storm. If it veers slightly to the east, we could have massive tidal surge and flooding issues," the governor said.
"I'd encourage everybody hearing and seeing this, if you're in coastal Louisiana, please do evacuate," he said.
Gustav also wrought havoc with the US political calendar, forcing US President Bush to cancel plans to appear at the Republican National Convention in St Paul, Minnesota. The US leader said Sunday that he would instead travel to Texas to monitor the storm.
The Republican who would succeed Bush in the White House, presumed presidential nominee John McCain, drastically scaled back the itinerary for the first day of the convention Monday.
"We're going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow, except for those absolutely necessary," said McCain.
"I hope and pray we will be able to resume some of our normal operations as quickly as possible," he told reporters via a video link from St. Louis, after returning from a tour of relief preparations in Mississippi.
At 0000 GMT Monday, the eye of Gustav was about 260 miles (415 kilometers) south-southeast of New Orleans and moving northwest at about 17 miles (27 kilometers) per hour.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour and was expected to strengthen before blowing ashore, probably on the northern Gulf Coast about midday Monday, forecasters said.
The National Hurricance Center in Miami warned of storm surges of as much as 14 feet (4.2 meters) above normal, rainfall of up to a foot (30 centimeters), and isolated tornadoes in Louisiana.
Military and civilian disaster relief operations were on full alert with the memory of the catastrophic hit on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina almost exactly three years ago, and the local and federal governments' botched response.
Katrina made landfall near New Orleans on August 29, 2005, smashing poorly-built levees surrounding the city and causing massive floods that destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed nearly 1,800.
Louisiana officials said there some 750 national guard troops already on the ground in New Orleans if needed for rescue operations.
Mayor Ray Nagin on Sunday ordered a sundown curfew in the city and vowed to throw looters into prison.
He told local television that the city had become a "ghost town" after a massive evacuation campaign, and that only about 10,000 residents remained after thousands fled the wrath of Gustav.
Some of those who left said they felt reassured.
"The mayor assured us our property will be safe," Wilson Patterson, 48, said as he prepared to board a bus with wheelchair-bound 84-year-old Earline Martin at the combination bus and train depot know as The Gate.
"We don't want to get caught up in the Katrina craziness," he said, recalling the lawlessness that swept New Orleans in 2005.
Jindal said search and rescue efforts were already in place, hours before the storm was due to crash on shore.
"We will begin search-and-rescue operations as soon as we safely can. That would be when winds are below 140 miles per hour," he said, which probably will occur "late Monday," he said.
"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."
Meanwhile, Jindal told reporters there were unconfirmed reports that three critically ill patients died while being transported to safer ground.
"They had to weigh the risk between sheltering in place and evacuating and made the decision they thought was best for their patients," the governor said.
Date created : 2008-09-01