Posted Sep. 1, 2008 – With New Orleans turned into a ghost town after the evacuation of nearly 300,000 people from the city hit by Hurricane Katrina three years ago by train, plane, buses and automobile over the weekend, the Gulf Coast is bracing for Hurricane Gustav.
Described by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as “the Storm of the Century,” Gustav threatens to wreck havoc on the Gulf Coast three years after Hurricane Katrina caused storm surges that battered and burst through New Orleans’ levees and caused flooding and destruction that is blamed for narly 1,000 Louisianan deaths andmore than 1,600 throughout the region not to repeat the mistakes of Katrina, when local, state and federal government officals were caught flatfooted, leaving thousands of New Orleans residents to fend for themselves on rooftops a football stadium and other buildings.
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Officials in New Orleans, the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and supporting federal agencies coordinating efforts to deal with Gustav’s wrath vow not to repeat Katrina's mistakes.
“We’ve had a change of culture,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director R. David Paulson said Saturday. “We’ve gone from a reactive organization, which was how FEMA was designed, to be a proactive organization. We saw very clearly in Katrina that the reactive arc does not work.”
The government’s reflexes will be tested to the max when Gustav takes hold of the Gulf Coast some time today.
Fast-moving Hurricane Gustav's winds began pounding the Gulf Coast early Monday, and unleash it's strongest torrents about 65 miles west of New Orleans, just West of the Texas boarder. “This is a dangerous weather event,” Homeland Security Sec. Michael Chertoff said Sunday before leaving for Louisiana to assess storm preparedness.
Gustav packed a punch, pounding the Gulf with winds of up to 108-to-110 miles per hour, making it a strong Category 2 storm. But, while Gustav was considerably weaker than Hurricane Katrina, its winds weren’t the only worry.
“Rain is a big factor,” Chertoff said Sunday, adding that the West New Orleans levees, built to withstand five feet of flooding, were not reinforced after Katrina and that there are no guarantees they will hold under pressure of the expected flood surge, a wall of water that could reach as high as14-to-16 feet.
“Even if the levees hold, there will be flooding,” Chertoff added. “That’s why we are insisting that people evacuate.”
Just as Gostav's eye hit shore about 10:45 a.m. Monday, surging water from the storm's heavy, wind-blown rain began to spill over New Orleans levees. While there's been flooding in the lowere 9th Ward, there have been no reports of levee breaches, damage or injury.
The difference, this time. officials say, was diliberate and coordinated preparation.
Well in advance of Hurricane Gustav, FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, arned forces, the American Red Cross along state and local officials, in a “unity of effort,” have:
"Looters will go directly to jail. You will not get a pass this time," Nagin said. "You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You will go directly to the Big House."
Equally as forcefully, Nagin and other officials warned people to get out of Gustav’s way.
“You need to be scared. You need to be concerned, and you need to get your butts moving and out of New Orleans right now,” Nagin said. “This is the storm of the century.”
While acknowledging that Nagin's description of Gustav might be a bit of a stretch, federal officials did not dismiss the mayor's intent or advise to people intent on riding out the storm where they are – in the hurricane’s path.
“There is no reason, no reason for anyone in the City of New Orleans to try to ride out this storm. It is simply too dangerous of a storm,” Paulson said. “We encourage everyone to heed the mayor’s warning, to heed the government’s warning and evacuate out of the city because we don’t want anybody in harm’s way.”