By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Police with bullhorns plan to go street to
street this weekend with a tough message about getting out ahead of
Hurricane Gustav: This time there will be no shelter of last
resort. The doors to the Superdome will be locked. Those who stay
will be on their own.
New forecasts Friday made it increasingly clear that New Orleans
will get some kind of hit - direct or indirect - by early next
week. That raised the likelihood people would have to flee, and the
city suggested a full-scale evacuation call could come as soon as
Those among New Orleans' estimated 310,000 to 340,000 residents
who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for
themselves and their loved ones," the city's emergency
preparedness director, Jerry Sneed, has warned.
As Katrina approached in 2005, as many as 30,000 people who
either could not or would not evacuate jammed the Louisiana
Superdome and the riverfront convention center. They spent days
waiting for rescue in squalid conditions. Some died.
Stung by the images that flashed across the world, including the
photo of an elderly woman dead in her wheelchair, her bodied
covered with a blanket, officials promised to find a better way.
This time, the city has taken steps to ensure no one has an
excuse not to leave. The state has a $7 million contract to provide
700 buses to evacuate the elderly, the sick and anyone around the
region without transportation.
Officials also plan to announce a curfew that will mean the
arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation
order goes out. Police and National Guardsman will patrol after the
storm's arrival, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he requested
additional urban search and rescue teams.
On Saturday police planned to roam neighborhoods, directing
residents-in-need to pick up points. The city also planned to reach
out to churches, hoping to spread the word about where the buses
will pick up evacuees.
But many weren't waiting to be told to leave: Northbound traffic
was heavy Friday on Interstate 55 - a major route out of the city -
and backseats of some cars were stacked with clothes, boxes and
bags. Gas stations around the city hummed with activity. Meanwhile,
hospitals and nursing homes also began moving patients further
In an effort to keep track of where people go after they leave
the city, officials planned to give evacuees who provided
authorities their information ahead of time bar-coded bracelets
containing their ID.
Still, advocates for the poor worried that the message would not
get to the city's most marginalized residents - and that could
"It's an enormous concern, an extraordinary concern" for day
laborers, the homeless, renters and public-housing residents, said
Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial
Justice. "Hundreds if not thousands will fall through the cracks
of an evacuation plan, and they will be left in the city, not out
of choice but out of necessity."
Gustav strengthened into a hurricane Friday and appeared to stay
on track to hit the Cayman Islands, then western Cuba before moving
into the warm waters of the Gulf bound for the U.S. coastline early
next week. At 11 p.m. EDT, Gustav's center was about 55 miles
east-northeast of Grand Cayman Island, and its top sustained winds
were near 80 mph.
FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson said Friday he
anticipated a "huge number" of Gulf Coast residents will be told
to leave the region this weekend.
Those in most need of help - the elderly, sick, and those
without transportation - will be moved first. Mayor Ray Nagin said
buses and trains would begin to evacuate those people beginning
early Saturday morning. Those on buses will go to shelters farther
north, Sneed said. Those on trains will go to Memphis, Tenn.
Neighboring states already were making offers to house evacuees,
remembering how many people fled Katrina.
Several parishes announced plans for evacuations beginning
Saturday. By early Sunday, Nagin said officials would look at the
potential for a mandatory evacuation.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour had already called for the
evacuation of residents along the Katrina-scarred coast, many of
whom still live in temporary housing. And in Louisiana, residents
of low-lying Grande Isle were under a voluntary evacuation order
beginning Friday. The community is traditionally one of the first
to vacate when tropical weather threatens.
Making the decision about exactly when and where to evacuate was
tough. Gustav confounded emergency preparedness officials as its
forecast track shifted through the day, confronting them with the
possibility of ordering evacuations not only in the New Orleans
area but across more than 200 miles of vulnerable coastline.
Johnson said officials in four states - Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana and Texas - planned evacuations.
Authorities also wanted to avoid creating any unnecessary panic.
In New Orleans, the locations of the evacuation buses were not
made public because people who need a ride are supposed to go to
designated pickup points, not to the staging area.
But that approach worried some residents. Elouise Williams, 68,
said she called the city's 311 hot line Thursday until she was
"blue in the face."
She was concerned about getting a ride to the pickup point and
about what would happen to those who left. As of late Friday
afternoon, she planned to remain in the Algiers neighborhood and
look in on any other residents who stayed behind.
"My thing is, my fright is, if we have somebody in these houses
and they're not able to get out, they're going to perish," she
said, "And we had enough of that in Katrina."
Critics said New Orleans was waiting too long. Bob Wheelersburg,
a former Army Reserve major and liaison officer for emergency
preparedness, said National Guard units are suffering from
equipment and manpower shortages.
"If I was the governor of Louisiana, I'd give the evacuation
order as soon as possible," Wheelersburg said. "I think it's
going to be a huge disaster."
But authorities have emphasized that New Orleans can't just up
and leave - there is a phased order to evacuations, and coastal
communities or those outside of levee protections get first crack
and moving residents out.
Some residents weren't waiting for a formal call - they left
Friday, long before the storm was even close to the shoreline.
"I'm getting out of here. I can't take another hurricane,"
said Ramona Summers, 59, whose house flooded during Katrina. She
hurried to help friends gather their belongings. Her car was
already packed for Gonzales, nearly 60 miles away.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Alan Sayre, Mary
Foster and Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report from New
Orleans. Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, La., Michael Kunzelman in
Gulfport, Miss., and Jay Root in Austin, Texas, also contributed.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)