Hurricane Gustav, which killed at least 22 people in Haiti, is now headed south of Cuba, but forecasters believe the storm will move north into the Gulf of Mexico by early next week and threaten a coastal area that stretches from Texas to the Florida panhandle. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the projected path of the storm puts New Orleans in the bulls eye and people in Louisiana are watching it with concern.
On Friday, Louisiana will observe the third anniversary of one of the state's greatest tragedies, Hurricane Katrina. That devastating hurricane, which caused massive flooding in New Orleans, was followed a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita, which devastated the western coast of the state and areas of east Texas.
Even though it is far too early to say where Gustav may make landfall, state officials are taking every precaution and trying to prepare the population for the worst.
"Especially since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we take every storm seriously," said Veronica Mosgrove of the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Office. "This one does seem that it is going to be a threat and so we are in constant communication with our local, state and federal partners and have our plan in place to roll out whatever we need to roll out at whatever time we need to do so."
One of the key points in the Louisiana emergency plan is an evacuation schedule that relies on hundreds of buses, trains and airplanes, in addition to the private vehicles that can be used to move people out of the threatened zone. Mosgrove says assets are in place and state officials will begin implementing the evacuation using a detailed plan.
"Fifty hours from when it is projected that there will be tropical storm or hurricane-force winds felt in the area, that is when we determine when to call for the evacuation," she said.
She says communities along the coast that are in the path of the storm will be evacuated first, then with 40 hours remaining before landfall, New Orleans and areas farther inland will be evacuated. At 30 hours, the next tier of populated areas will be evacuated.
Veronica Mosgrove says more about the possible trajectory of the storm should be known by this weekend, which includes the Monday Labor Day holiday. She says it is important that residents in southern Louisiana stay informed about the storm's progress.
"This is a holiday weekend so we are asking people to pay attention to weather forecasts and news so that they can be ready in the event that there is an evacuation called for," she said.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin cut short his attendance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in order to return home and work on storm preparations. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is scheduled to appear at his party's convention in St. Paul, Minnesota next week, but his office says he will not make a final decision on his plans until later this week when more information about the hurricane threat is available.