As predicted, Gustav regained hurricane strength with winds of up to 75 miles per hour as residents in Gulf Coast states prepared to begin evacuations at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Gustav could blow winds near 130 mph, Category 4 strength, 12 hours before its Tuesday landfall, reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
As Gustav barreled through the Caribbean en route to the Gulf Coast Friday, President Bush declared an emergency in Louisiana.
The storm headed to the Cayman Islands today after ravaging Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. On those islands, the storm left 75 dead in its wake.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said mandatory evacuation notices would go out to coastal Mississippi residents this weekend.
The storm is even more troublesome to New Orleans residents, with memories of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina still fresh in their minds.
Before Katrina etched its path of destruction through the Gulf Coast three years ago today, Wendy Smith decided not to leave New Orleans, where she had weathered so many storms.
Then Katrina hit east of New Orleans, the levees broke and the city was flooded. For the first days, Smith, a 43-year-old lifelong resident, was stranded in a hospital about two miles from her home. But then she got tired of waiting to return to her Mid City neighborhood.
"I swam home and spent about a week stranded at my home," she said.
Smith is ready for Gustav.
"When we first received news that there was a storm out in the Gulf that was threatening to be bad as Katrina, I immediately called and made hotel reservations in Memphis," she said. "I had known for the past three years that I certainly was not waiting to make my plans."
Other people also are taking such precautions, evidently. Across the region, hotels are seeing rooms swept up by residents trying to get as far inland as possible.
The Holiday Inn in downtown Shreveport, La., sold out two days ago, according to John Johnese, the assistant general manger. Most of the travelers are coming from the greater New Orleans area.
"We're actually oversold," Johnese said.
The hotel -- about a 340-mile drive from New Orleans -- has 190 rooms but 220 reservations, with rooms booked through Tuesday.
Travelers are now being sent to Little Rock, Ark., and Dallas.
"Shreveport is full, every hotel," Johnese said. "I think there's 8,000 rooms in Shreveport total and they're all full."
Three years ago, during Hurricane Katrina, Johnese was working at a Holiday Inn in Alexandria, La.
Back then, he said, "we had 10 to a room."
"It was pretty bad," Johnese said. "Hopefully, this one isn't like that."
Capital One has reserved 60 of the rooms in case it needs to move workers from New Orleans to some of its office space in Shreveport, Johnese said.
The hotel is charging $139.99 a night, $10 higher than normal because of the holiday weekend. On Tuesday, the rate falls to $94.99.
"Wish us luck dealing these people," Johnese said. "I know they are going to be irate, tired and we're just going to have to drink a lot when we get off work."
Another 200 miles up the road in Little Rock, Seth Rolfe is seeing reservations flow in at the front desk of the Hilton Little Rock Metro Center.
"We still do have availability," Rolfe said, but "occupancy jumped about 60 percent starting Sunday through Thursday."
Most of the reservations are for five days.