Hundreds Line Up to Leave New Orleans Before Gustav
NEW ORLEANS - Hundreds of people lined up outside a bus and train terminal early on Saturday to get out of New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav took aim at the Louisiana coast, reviving traumatic memories of Hurricane Katrina.
The city, which marked the third anniversary of Katrina on Friday, had not yet issued a mandatory evacuation order. Officials said that could come on Sunday.
But with memories of Katrina and its devastation still fresh, many had already decided to abandon the city, much of which lies below sea level. Gustav, now a major hurricane, was heading toward western Cuba on Saturday, and could reach the Louisiana coast early on Tuesday.
Cars crammed bumper to bumper on highways leading out of the city, and several low-lying parishes issued mandatory evacuation orders effective later on Saturday.
Hoping to avoid the 2005 spectacle of desperate city residents crammed into the New Orleans Superdome, the government has lined up hundreds of buses and trains to evacuate 30,000 people who cannot leave on their own.
About 1,500 Louisiana National Guard troops are in New Orleans to oversee the evacuation.
Walter Parker, a security guard who was trapped for eight days in his apartment during the Katrina flooding, lined up outside the Union Passenger Terminal as families with bags packed and children in tow waited for transportation.
Hundreds lined up to board buses, with no knowledge of their eventual destination.
"I'm not taking any chances. I don't want to see another Katrina, with dead bodies floating in the water," said Parker.
"I saw elderly people floating. I saw one body that really got to me, a child, floating, and it just made me sick."
Katrina was a monstrous Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale in the Gulf of Mexico before hitting the coast near New Orleans as a Category 3 on August 29, 2005, with wind speeds up to 130 miles per hour (209 kph).
Its massive storm surge broke through protective levees and flooded 80 percent of the city. New Orleans degenerated into chaos as stranded storm victims waited days for rescue.
About 1,500 people were killed on the U.S. Gulf Coast and $80 billion in damages made Katrina the costliest U.S. natural disaster. In all, 11.5 million people are in the path of the storm, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Gustav's sustained winds had risen to 120 mph (195 kph), making it a Category 3 storm. Any storm with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph) is ranked "major" by the Miami-based hurricane center.
Forecasters said Gustav could grow to a Category 4, with winds of at least 131 mph (210 kph), before reaching the Cuban coast. The storm's current projected track takes it into the low-lying Terrebonne Parish southwest of New Orleans, one of the least-protected areas on the Louisiana coast.
Windell Curole, manager of neighboring South Lafourche Levee District, said: "If it's close to us, our levee system wasn't designed for that kind of storm. There's a tremendous risk."
(Additional reporting by Kathy Finn in New Orleans; Editing by Alan Elsner and Chris Baltimore)