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Hurricane threatens New Orleans

world Updated: Aug 28, 2008 10:15 IST
Hurricane Katrina

Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, residents of the Big Easy are bracing for another major strike as officials vow they will not repeat the mistakes that lefts thousands stranded in floodwaters.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and announced plans to begin evacuating coastal areas well ahead of the storm forecast to strike on Monday as a Category 3 hurricane.

"Our state is better prepared than it has been before to respond to a major disaster," Jindal said at a press conference.

"We have supplies preposition but ... people need to make their own plans as well. Now is the time to make sure you have gas in the car, food and prescriptions."

Meanwhile, the city's mayor said nobody would be allowed to stay in New Orleans should Gustav achieve its forecasted strength and path.

"Everyone will be getting out," Ray Nagin said.

"There's buses, there's drivers, there's planes, there's trains. There's a whole different strategy for getting people out, starting with the people who have special medical needs."

The coordinated effort stands in sharp contrast to the botched response to Katrina, which smashed poorly-built levees in New Orleans, destroying tens of thousands of homes and killing nearly 1,500 people on August 29, 2005.

Tens of thousands of people spent days stranded without food or sanitation on rooftops, highways overpasses and temporary shelters which became scenes of chaos and fear as federal, state and local officials failed to adequately coordinate rescue plans.

The mismanagement was the largest blemish on President George W. Bush's domestic record and contributed to a steady decline in his approval ratings.

Recovery efforts in New Orleans were also stymied by a lack of leadership and bureaucratic blockades that left homeowners with little help to rebuild.

Just over half of the city's residents have returned and large swathes of the city remain abandoned to rot and ruin after floodwaters as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) swallowed around 80 percent of New Orleans.

With several days to go before Gustav makes landfall, there is a very good chance that New Orleans could be spared his wrath.

Nagin said a mandatory evacuation order will be issued 72 hours before the forecasted landfall of any hurricane greater than a Category Two with a storm surge above the levee height of 17 to 20 feet (five to six meters).

"We are ready to evacuate," Nagin said as he prepared to head home early from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"The big question is, what shape are our levees in?" Nagin said, adding that he was "cautiously optimistic" that the levees will be able to withstand the storm despite concerns about the quality of the repair work done.

And instead of opening a shelter in the city - where tens of thousands were stranded for days without food or sanitation during Katrina - officials will help residents evacuate to shelters out of the path of the storms.

Officials will also be providing cages and shelters for pets, since so many people refused to evacuate last time for fear of abandoning their pets, Nagin said.

The city's animal shelter has already begun preparations to evacuate scores of animals to shelters in Texas and the state capital of Baton Rouge, and posted tips on its website to help residents find pet-friendly hotels and shelters.

Residents were also warned to document the repairs they've done to their homes since Katrina in order to avoid problems with their insurance companies -- many of which have been sued for wrongfully denying claims.

Tropical Storm Gustav churned toward Cuba after lashing Haiti and the Dominican Republic with hurricane force winds and rain that killed 22 people.

Forecasters said it could regain hurricane force Thursday and eventually veer north towards the US Gulf Coast.