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New Orleans Braces for Hurricane Gustav

The city of New Orleans, Louisiana - part of a metropolitan area of some one million people - is preparing for the arrival on Monday of Hurricane Gustav, which could be as devastating as Hurricane Katrina that three years ago flooded much of the city and left at least 1,400 people dead. VOA's Barry Wood has the latest on how New Orleans is preparing for the storm.

On Bourbon Street in the famous French Quarter, the streets are empty. Most tourists and residents have heeded the warnings to evacuate. Outside a five-star hotel, carpenter Bennie Mendell is covering windows with sheets of plywood. "We've got to board this place up. We've still have 500 rooms at roughly four shutters per room that we've got to get tied up," he said.

By Sunday evening, city and state officials were pleased with the pace of the mandatory evacuation. Mayor Ray Nagin says a big, ugly storm is approaching. Looters, he warns, will go straight to prison.

At least 15,000 people so far have left New Orleans by bus and train. Tens-of-thousands of others have departed by private automobiles, crowding all highways going west, east and north from the city.

As the storm approaches, there is concern about the many off shore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. All fuel imports into the Gulf have been suspended.

Kevin Kolever of the U.S. Department of Energy says there is also concern about the 32 oil refineries located along the Louisiana and Texas coasts. "Thus far, we're seeing those facilities located closer to the coast, this is really in the Mississippi River and the Lake Charles area, shutting down. Those to the north, most significantly the ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge. (Louisiana) facility, are maintaining operations," he said.

Police and military personnel are on the scene. Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, has declared the state a disaster area. But so far, the evacuation has gone smoothly, and without the chaos and delay associated with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.