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New Orleans Evacuates Ahead of Hurricane


The mayor of the U.S. city of New Orleans has ordered residents and visitors to evacuate the low-lying city ahead of an expected hit by Hurricane Gustav. VOA's Brian Wagner reports forecasters expect the storm to intensify before possible landfall on Monday.

Mayor Ray Nagin issued the evacuation order to take effect early Sunday for all people in vulnerable parts of the gulf coast city. Already, thousands of people have begun leaving the city, including elderly and disabled residents and hospital patients who were being transferred by bus to areas away from the coast.

Speaking late Saturday, Nagin warned residents that hurricane Gustav was likely to be much worse than hurricane Katrina, which caused vast flooding and killed more than 1,400 people in the state in 2005. He added that residents who fail to leave the city should not expect to rely on emergency officials for assistance when the storm hits. The mayor called Gustav "the storm of the century."

Earlier Saturday, Gustav crossed the western part of Cuba, where officials evacuated some 250,000 people from the storm's path. There were initial reports of serious flooding in some areas, but no deaths from the storm in Cuba.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had weakened slightly after crossing Cuba but was expected to gain strength as it entered warm gulf waters.

Forecaster Ed Rappaport said residents along the U.S. gulf coast should prepare for serious hurricane conditions by mid-day Monday, with "a storm surge of four to six meters and heavy rainfall with possible flooding from both."

Elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies have shut down oil rigs and transferred scores of workers to dry land ahead of the hurricane. The region accounts for a quarter of U.S. oil production and represents about half of the nation's refinery capacity.