Gustav Churns Toward Empty New Orleans

Members of the National Guard patrol the area along Bourbon Street in New Orleans, La., on Aug. 31, 2008. Hurricane Gustav is expected to hit the area Monday. AP PHOTO

With a historic evacuation of 1.9 million people from the Louisiana coast complete, gun-toting police and National Guardsmen stood watch as rain started to fall on this city's empty streets Sunday night - and even presidential politics took a back seat as the nation waited to see if Hurricane Gustav would be another Katrina.

The storm was set to crash ashore midday Monday with frightful force, testing the three years of planning and rebuilding that followed Katrina's devastating blow to the Gulf Coast.

Painfully aware of the failings that led to that horrific suffering and more than 1,600 deaths, this time officials moved beyond merely insisting tourists and residents leave south Louisiana. They threatened arrest, loaded thousands onto buses and warned that anyone who remained behind would not be rescued.

Forecasters said Gustav was likely to grow stronger as it marched toward the coast with top sustained winds of around 115 mph. At 2 a.m. Central on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said Gustav was a Category 3 storm centered about 170 miles south-southeast of New Orleans, moving northwest near 16 mph. The storm's center was forecast to come ashore at midday Monday.

The city so famous for its sounds was eerily quiet Sunday tonight, CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan reported. The streets were mostly empty except for National Guard troops and police on patrol.

There were roadblocks throughout the Big Easy, Sreenivasan reported, to make sure looters don't take advantage of the emptiness, unlike in the days after hurricane Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin said looters would get a one-way ticket to one of the toughest prisons in the country.

"Looters will go directly to jail. You will not get a pass this time," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You will go directly to the Big House."

In addition to his admonition against looting, Nagin expressed some hope that since Gustav has shown to be a fast-moving storm, it might make landfall before gaining even more strength over the Gulf, and would not linger long to dump even more rain on the area.

Click here for more about CBS News' complete coverage of Hurricane Gustav.
Col. Mike Edmondson, state police commander, said he believed that 90 percent of the population had fled the Louisiana coast. The exodus of 1.9 million people is the largest evacuation in state history, and thousands more had left from Mississippi, Alabama and flood-prone southeast Texas.

Late Sunday, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued one last plea to the roughly 100,000 people still left on the coast: "If you've not evacuated, please do so. There are still a few hours left."

Louisiana and Mississippi temporarily changed traffic flow so all highway lanes led away from the coast, and cars were packed bumper-to-bumper. Stores and restaurants shut down, hotels closed and windows were boarded up. Some who planned to stay changed their mind at the last second, not willing to risk the worst.

"I was trying to get situated at home. I was trying to get things so it would be halfway safe," said 46-year-old painter Jerry Williams, who showed up at the city's Union Station to catch one of the last buses out of town. "You're torn. Do you leave it and worry about it, or do you stay and worry about living?"

(AP/Therese Apel, The Daily Leader)
(A Mississippi Highway Patrol vehicle attempts to make its way through northbound traffic on U.S. 55 Sunday as evacuees line the interstate on their way out of the path of Hurricane Gustav, Aug. 31, 2008.)

Against all warnings, some gambled and decided to face its wrath. On an otherwise deserted commercial block of downtown Lafayette, about 135 miles west of the city, Tim Schooler removed the awnings from his photography studio. He thought about evacuating Sunday before deciding he was better off riding out the storm at home with his wife, Nona.

"There's really no place to go. All the hotels are booked up to Little Rock and beyond," he said. "We're just hoping for the best."

With a house sitting a few hundred yards from a levee that failed during Katrina, Jimmy Krummel hightailed it to safety before floodwaters filled his home. But despite all of the warnings, CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports, Krummel is not evacuating this time.

"I'm more confident on this side of the canal after the Army Corps has done all their testing and rebuilding," Krummel said. But he's the exception. The vast majority of city residents were unwilling to risk another catastrophe.

"I just don't know that we had enough time to fix the levies like they should have been originally," said Susan Winters.

There were frightening comparisons between Gustav and Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans when the storm surge overtook the levees. While Gustav isn't as large as Katrina, which was a massive Category 5 storm at roughly the same place in the Gulf, there was no doubt the storm posed a major threat to a partially rebuilt New Orleans and the flood-prone coasts of Louisiana and southeast Texas. The storm has already killed at least 94 people on its path through the Caribbean.

The storm could bring with it a storm surge of up to 14 feet and rainfall up to 20 inches wherever it hits. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina pushed about 25 feet of surge.

Houma, Louisiana could be in line for a direct hit from Gustav, CBS Early Show Weather anchor Dave Price reported. Throughout the area, hospitals airlifted patients out and there was a steady stream of traffic northward to safety.

A direct hit in Houma could push upwards of 15 feet of water from the Teribone Bay directly into the parish, Price reported.

After Katrina, officials from the parish to the federal levels are not waiting to act. Mandatory evacuations started yesterday and are still ongoing. Homeland Security here told CBS News that at least 80 percent of the parish had gone, but exact numbers were hard to come by.

Mindful of the potential for disaster, John McCain tore up the script Sunday for the opening day of his Republican National Convention, ordering the cancellation of all but essential activities for Monday as Gustav churned toward New Orleans.

Surge models suggest larger areas of southeast Louisiana, including parts of the greater New Orleans area, could be flooded by several feet of water. Gustav appears most likely to overwhelm the levees west of the city that have for decades been underfunded and neglected and are years from an update.

The nation's economic attention was focused on Gustav's effect on refineries and offshore petroleum production rigs. The combination of prolonged production interruptions, such as occurred when Katrina and Rita damaged the Gulf infrastructure, could trigger rising prices.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Chevron Corp. decided not to close its Pascagoula refinery, which processes 330,000 barrels of oil a day.

Billions of dollars were at stake in other wide-ranging economic sectors, including sugar harvesting, the shipping business and tourism. The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered a dozen casinos to close.

The final train out of town left with fewer than 100 people on board, while the one of the last buses to make the rounds of the city pulled into Union Station empty. By 7 p.m., police were making their final rounds. Every officer in the department was on duty, and 1,200 on street were joined by 1,500 National Guardsmen.

"When the 911 calls start coming in, we'll know how many people are left in town," said police superintendent Warren Riley.

Even as they pressed to complete the evacuation, officials insisted there would be no repeat of the inept response to Katrina's wrath. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said search and rescue will be the top priority once Gustav passes - high-water vehicles, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, Coast Guard cutters and a Navy vessel that is essentially a floating emergency room are posted around the strike zone.

West of New Orleans in Houma, he wished passengers well as stragglers boarded buses for Shreveport and Dallas.

"It's going to be hot on some of the buses. It's going to be a long trip," Chertoff said. "So it's not going to be pleasant, but it's a lot better than sitting in the Superdome and it's a lot better than sitting in your house."

Texas Evacuations

State officials have helped evacuate and shelter nearly 10,000 people with special needs from southeast Texas in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav.

Texas was also readying to take in an estimated 45,000 evacuees from Louisiana.

So far, three Texas counties have issued mandatory evacuations. They are Hardin, Jefferson and Orange and include the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur.

State personnel and resources also have been used to help the evacuation of some 1,000 Louisiana residents with health issues. The governor's office says 27 buses carrying Louisiana residents who could not evacuate themselves are on their way to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Transportation Troubles

  • Hurricane Gustav is forcing the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport to cancel flights. All inbound and outbound flights were to stop shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday. The runways are remaining open for emergency operations. All Monday flights were canceled at the airport.

  • Carnival Cruise Lines said Sunday that its cruise ship Carnival Fantasy, which had been due to arrive in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday after a five-day voyage to the Western Caribbean, will instead arrive on Wednesday. The ship's next scheduled voyage, a five-day cruise, has been changed to a four-day trip that will leave Mobile on Wednesday and return September 7, and will make only one stop, at Cozumel.
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