New Orleans: HAARP to finish what Katrina started


Richard Moore

“This is the mother of all storms, and I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it,” Mr. Nagin said at an evening news briefing. “This is the real deal. This is not a test. For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”

Mayor Orders the Evacuation of New Orleans

August 31, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — City officials ordered everyone to leave New Orleans beginning Sunday morning — the first mandatory evacuation since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city three years ago — as Hurricane Gustav grew into what the city’s mayor on Saturday called “the storm of the century” and moved toward the Louisiana coast.

The mayor, C. Ray Nagin, said Hurricane Gustav was larger and more dangerous than Hurricane Katrina, and he pleaded with residents to get out or face flooding and life-threatening winds.

“This is the mother of all storms, and I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it,” Mr. Nagin said at an evening news briefing. “This is the real deal. This is not a test. For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”

The mayor’s warnings were considerably more dramatic than the forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center, and he may have been exaggerating in order to shock jaded residents into taking prudent steps. But he said storm surges, particularly on the city’s West Bank, could be twice as high as the neighborhood’s 10-foot levees, and said those people choosing to remain in their homes should have an ax to chop through their roofs when the floodwaters rise.

The hurricane could arrive on American shores just as the Republican National Convention is scheduled to begin in Minnesota; Senator John McCain of Arizona said the party was considering whether to shorten the gathering or delay it by a few days. Mr. McCain and his choice for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, plan to visit Mississippi on Sunday to see how preparations for the storm are going, a campaign official said.

Bush administration officials took pains not to be caught as flatfooted as they were in Hurricane Katrina, announcing that President Bush had called governors in the region to assure them of assistance and that top federal emergency officials were in the region to guide the response.

Already, hundreds of thousands of residents had begun streaming north from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas stretching from the Florida Panhandle to Houston.

Most left by car, which caused miles of backups on some highways, but New Orleans officials also began a far more carefully planned evacuation of the city’s less mobile residents than took place in 2005. Thousands of city residents began boarding buses and trains ferrying them to shelters in the north.

“I don’t want to be stuck like I was in Katrina,” said Janice McElveen, who was waiting for a bus in the Irish Channel section, recalling being stranded on the Interstate 10 bridge for five days in 2005.

In the Central City section, families, elderly people and the visibly infirm — those with wheelchairs and canes — lined the sidewalk along Dryades Street for half a long block, waiting for a bus. “After going through Katrina, that ain’t no joke,” said Jody Anderson, an unemployed former cashier, who spent seven days in the fetid conditions of the Superdome after that storm. “It’s not worth it, trying to stay.”

The storm strengthened on Saturday into a Category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 145 miles per hour as it moved over Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters said the hurricane was most likely to strike the Gulf Coast on Monday. New Orleans could get winds of up to 73 m.p.h. and possibly greater.

Forecasters said Hurricane Gustav could become a Category 5 storm, the strongest designation on the scale.

In a mandatory evacuation, residents are not physically forced to leave, but are subject to arrest outside their houses if a curfew is imposed. Mr. Nagin also warned that anyone who chose to stay would not be able to rely on public agencies for emergency assistance.

The political impact of the approaching storm was already being felt. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas announced they would not attend the Republican National Convention and would remain in their states during the storm.

In Washington, White House officials were considering whether to reschedule Mr. Bush’s trip to the convention, where he is set to speak on Monday.

Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in an interview taped for “Fox News Sunday,” said the convention program might be reduced or suspended for a day or two if the storm turned out to be destructive.

New Orleans officials estimated that 30,000 people might need the bus and train service to evacuate. Amtrak trains carried thousands of people to Memphis, and buses with thousands of passengers had left the city by Saturday afternoon for shelters in Alexandria, Shreveport and other northern Louisiana locations.

Jackie Clarkson, the president of the City Council, said the evacuation was proceeding more smoothly than any she had seen before. “We can save everybody this time,” Ms. Clarkson said.

The state police on Saturday reported moderately heavy traffic on a principal highway north, Interstate 55, though local news reports indicated that jams had already formed on some roads.

Dozens of people waited outside for buses at 17 collection points all over New Orleans to take them to the Union Passenger Terminal, the train station downtown. From there they would be taken by bus and train to cities in north Louisiana and to Memphis. They clutched duffle bags, plastic shopping sacks, small children and overstuffed suitcases, vowing to avoid at all costs the still-vivid nightmare of Hurricane Katrina.

The buses arrived promptly at 8 a.m. — a sharp contrast to the disorganization of three years ago, when the only plan was to jam thousands of people without cars into the Superdome and let others fend for themselves.

“I refuse to go through that again,” said Roxanne Clayton, a photo technician at Walgreens, who was waiting in the Irish Channel neighborhood with her teenage son and 10-year-old daughter. Ms. Clayton recalled being stuck in her attic for two days during Hurricane Katrina. “I’d rather play it safe than sorry,” she said, “because I know what sorry feels like.”

A neighbor from the larger houses up Louisiana Avenue brought doughnuts for those patiently waiting, and many said they were simply grateful for the ride out of town.

Officials made an effort to soothe concerns about looting. Mayor Nagin noted that with 1,500 to 2,000 National Guard troops coming to New Orleans, the city would have twice as much law enforcement protection as it had in the days after Hurricane Katrina. In all, 7,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard were mobilized Friday.

For residents who were driving out, state officials prepared an elaborate contraflow system, reversing all lanes of several highways so they lead out of southern Louisiana beginning Sunday morning. Officials were staging the plans so that those farthest south could exit first.

In St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday, warning residents that curfews would be enforced. The parish was one of the hardest hit in Hurricane Katrina, and many of its residents never returned. Similar orders were given in the parishes of Plaquemines, St. Charles and lower Jefferson, southwest of New Orleans.

Hurricane Gustav, which has already killed 81 people in the Caribbean, lashed the western tip of Cuba on Saturday, and The Associated Press reported that 300,000 people were being evacuated from the area. Forecasts of its track said it could strike the United States mainland from the Florida Panhandle on the east to the Texas coast, though the center of the track remained the Louisiana coast west of New Orleans. Whatever its exact landing point, storm surges could cause damage throughout the region.

Mr. Nagin said the storm was now 900 miles wide, compared with 400 miles for Katrina. Even the capital of Baton Rouge, 80 miles inland from New Orleans, could experience hurricane winds of up to 100 m.p.h., he said.

But Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said he had no idea what the mayor meant by a 900-mile footprint, saying that hurricane force winds do not extend nearly that far.

Mr. Feltgen emphasized the uncertainty of forecasted landfalls. “New Orleans will be impacted, but to what degree we don’t know,” Mr. Feltgen said. If the center of the storm passes more than 60 miles from the city, he added, “they may not expect hurricane force winds.”

That New Orleans will most likely be east of the center, on “the dirty side of the storm,” means large amounts of rain. In addition, Mr. Feltgen said, there is “potential for a significant storm surge;

we don’t know how much, or where.”

A Louisiana State University scientist who has been tracking the storm said the area at greatest risk, under present forecasts, was not New Orleans but the low-population district between Houma and Lafayette on the state’s south-central coast. “It’s just like Rita; it’s more of a rural storm than an urban storm,” said Robert Twilley, a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences.

Experts say that the New Orleans hurricane defenses have been strengthened significantly since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina but that the city is still not yet ready to take the punch from a major hurricane.

“The system itself is stronger than it was before Katrina,” said Maj. Timothy J. Kurgan, the chief of the public affairs office for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. He acknowledged, however, that the defenses that the corps has been designing and putting into place to withstand what is known as 100-year flooding are under construction and are only 20 percent complete.

While some $2 billion has been spent so far to patch and upgrade the system, the $13 billion construction program that is designed to bring the city full protection against the kind of flooding that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year is not scheduled to be complete until 2011.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Major Kurgan, and “we’ve made great strides. But we’re not there by any stretch of the imagination.”

In particular, floodgates have been constructed at the end of city drainage canals leading to Lake Pontchartrain, the principal conduits for the fateful surge during Hurricane Katrina. Still, there is no such arrangement on the Industrial Canal, the surge from which destroyed the still-empty Lower Ninth Ward.

In terms of preparation for Hurricane Gustav, Major Kurgan said, the corps has workers ready to enter its hardened shelters at the floodgates and to respond quickly and in force once the storm has passed. “The Corps of Engineers is ready for this storm,” he said, and will be “able to address whatever this storm brings to us.”

Some institutions — hospitals and nursing homes, where many died during Hurricane Katrina — were taking no chances, already ferrying patients north of the area on Friday.

Michelle Barnes, a French Quarter resident, was nearly in tears, worried that she would not be allowed on the bus with her little dog, Jack, who was resting in a black canvas bag. Evacuees had been instructed to keep their pets in a carrying case, but Ms. Barnes did not have one. “I just hope,” Ms. Barnes said, “because otherwise I won’t leave.”

John Schwartz contributed reporting.