With Hurricane Gustav expected to make landfall Monday with devastating results, the nation's attention has been riveted through the weekend on New Orleans. But residents in dozens of other towns and cities along the Gulf Coast are also preparing for the storm – some heeding the warnings of officials and leaving, others hunkering down to weather the worst.
Up to 1 million residents of the coastal areas of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama have already been evacuated from the impact zone, and cities around the region were preparing to absorb the huge number of evacuees.
Hurricane warnings were issued for more than 500 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to the Alabama-Florida border, as the monstrous, 600-mile wide storm churned its way toward the United States.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana declared mandatory evacuations for 21 coastal parishes and opened the state's highways to contraflow traffic, allowing evacuees to use southbound lanes to drive northwards to safety.
Evacuations are under way in one of those parishes, Plaquemines, where the city of Belle Chase is under threat of flooding for the first time ever.
"I think we're in a more perilous position that we've ever been, at any time in our history," said parish Sheriff Jeff Hingless, who doubts the city's levees will withstand the deluge.
According to The Associated Press, many of the 1 million estimated evacuees were leaving New Orleans. Over the weekend, residents without their own cars were put on trains to Memphis and buses bound for shelters in northern Louisiana cities like Shreveport and Monroe.
According to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, some 14,000 to 15,000 residents had already been evacuated by early Sunday evening, many having driven out of the city and taken up residence in state- and parish-sponsored shelters.
Ten thousand people from around the state already fully occupy four in-state shelters -- one each in Bastrop and Monroe and two in Shreveport -- set up for people without their own cars, according to the Louisiana Department of Social Services, which runs the shelters.
Two other similar shelters run by FEMA and the Red Cross are also at capacity, with 5,500 people.
Some 400 people with medical conditions have taken up residence in "medical special needs shelters" in five Louisiana cities. The medical shelters, staffed by members of the Department of Health and Hospitals, can accommodate just over 2,200 people total.
Residents driving their own vehicles can stop along the evacuation route at centers that give them the latest information on available shelter spaces. Evacuees can make reservations at shelters in advance rather than drive from shelter to shelter looking for available beds, said Cheryl Michelet, spokesperson for the Department of Social Services.
Michelet said there are currently 68,000 in-state spaces available for residents, with more being created.
"We can accommodate around 100,000 people. In the worst-case scenario, where the entire coastline is evacuated, which is happening now, we'd need room for about 250,000 people. That's why we've had to send people out of state," she said.
Louisiana residents are being evacuated to Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Some evacuees who did not make reservations from the road found themselves in Shreveport today with nowhere to stay.