Emergency Declared as Gustav Swirls Towards Gulf

New Orleans officials prepare to evacuate 30,000 residents by train and bus.


Aug. 28, 2008 — -- Tropical Storm Gustav built toward renewed hurricane force today as it drove toward Jamaica, while, many miles away, New Orleans watched it with a nervous eye. The city has set a bar for Gustav to hit: if a Category 3 or stronger hurricane comes within 60 hours of the city, New Orleans plans to institute a mandatory evacuation order. Unlike Katrina, there will be no massive shelter at the Superdome, a plan designed to encourage residents to leave. Instead, the state has arranged for buses and trains to take people to safety.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and put 3,000 National Guard troops on alert. Meanwhile, Gustav -- the cause of flooding that killed 23 in Haiti and theDominican Republic -- was nearly stationary about 80 miles east ofKingston, Jamaica, but was forecast to pass veryclose to the island later in the day.

Gustav is expected to turn into a Category 3 hurricane and make landfall on the Gulf Coast sometime on Sunday. This weekend marks the third anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, which wrecked havoc on New Orleans.

"When were looking at a storm like this [Category 3 ], we're looking at winds in the 100 to 120 mile an hour range," said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin reportedly left the Democratic National Convention in Denver to return home for the preparations.

The city is prepared to move 30,000 residents by train and bus, said Col. Jerry Sneed, who runs the city's office of emergency preparedness. The city expects an evacuation to take 24 to 36 hours.

All along the Gulf Coast, local newscasters are warning everyone to brace themselves for the big one, and officials in New Orleans are sounding the alarm now.

"When you look at the path everyone should be saying this hurricane is coming to New Orleans," said Sneed.

In the lower Ninth ward, an area devastated by Katrina, people trying to rebuild their homes are ready to pick up and go.

If he gets an order of evacuation, Pastor Jose Anderson told "Good Morning America" that he is going.

"We are going to evacuate" Anderson said. "I will leave, it is safer to leave."

According to the National Hurricane Center, it is not yet time for New Orleanians in particular to panic. Forecasters won't be able to pinpoint the exact location of Gustav's path until Friday or Saturday, according to meteorologist and National Hurricane spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

"That's pure speculation at this point. It can go anywhere right now," Feltgen told ABCNews.com. "We don't know [exactly where it will go] and we're sure not going to freak out people in New Orleans at this point."

But Gustav is headed to somewhere on the Gulf Coast, according to Feltgen,and anywhere from southwest Texas to Florida could get the brunt of the storm.

For those that choose to ride out the storm, the horror at the Super Dome and the New Orleans Convention Center will not be repeated. They will no longer serve as emergency shelters. Now, there are 17 evacuation centers.

Darryel Terrance, a Ninth Ward resident, is rebuilding his home by hand. Like so many in New Orleans, he does not put his faith in the Corps of Engineers.

"I wouldn't trust the levees," Terrance said. "The government let us down before, I definitely wouldn't stay no more."

But the U.S. Corps of Engineers maintains that the system is different now than then.

"Well, you know, I am not prepared to say what level of storm we can protect against. The system is stronger today than pre Katrina," said Col. Jeff Bedey.

In the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil rigs are being evacuated and the price of crude is soaring as the jittery market worries about Gustav's path.

If a mandatory evacuation is put in effect residents are supposed to leave the city at least two days before projected landfall, which means people could be pouring out of the Big Easy as early as this weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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