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Hurricane alert puts New Orleans on evacuation footing logo

Hurricane alert puts New Orleans on evacuation footing

• 23 killed across the Caribbean
• State of emergency declared by Louisiana governor

  • Thursday August 28 2008 13:32 BST
Hurricane Gustav man covers himself with a dry palm leaf in Haiti

A man covers himself with a dry palm leave as he walks through a flooded street during heavy rains caused by Hurricane Gustav in Leogane, southern Haiti

New Orleans is on standby to evacuate as tropical storm Gustav heads towards the US, almost three years after the city was devastated by hurricane Katrina.

Forecasters say Gustav will have become a powerful hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico and will probably hit the US coast on Monday, somewhere between Florida and Texas. Its most likely path will take it over New Orleans.

Gustav killed 23 people as it crossed the Caribbean. It is heading for Jamaica, where the authorities have issued a hurricane warning, and is forecast to reach the US coast.

This morning, the storm was 80 miles east of Jamaica and 170 miles south of Guantanámo Bay in Cuba. Its top wind speeds were about 50mph – well below the 74mph that would make it a hurricane – but forecasters said Gustav was likely to build in strength as it passed over the deep warm water south of Cuba.

Evacuations from New Orleans may start tomorrow. The oil company Shell has begun ferrying workers off its rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29 2005. It flooded 80% of the city and devastated smaller communities along the coast. More than 1,800 people died.

Many residents defied evacuation orders to guard their homes and businesses from looters as law and order broke down. Others were unable to leave. They ended up waiting days for help, with no supplies and bodies floating in the floodwater.

The Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, has declared a state of emergency, allowing him time to mobilise the national guard. “Our state is better prepared than it has been before to respond to a major disaster,” he said. “But I want to emphasise that our citizens have a personal responsibility.”

Seven hundred buses are being prepared to evacuate 35,000 people suffering from medical conditions, and trains are on standby to move 7,000 elderly people to safety.

City officials said the New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, who has cut short his trip to the Democratic national convention in Denver, would order an evacuation if Gustav looked likely to come ashore with wind speeds of more than 111mph. The order would be given 30 hours before the storm is likely to strike.

Officials gave assurances that floodgates and pumping stations that failed catastrophically in 2005 would hold up.

In the financial sector, there are fears that Gustav could damage to the oil platforms across the Gulf of Mexico that produce about a quarter of all US oil. Analysts are concerned that petrol supplies could be disrupted if refineries on the coast are damaged. The price of crude oil has risen for a fourth consecutive day, gaining more than one dollar to $119.25 (£64) a barrel in early trading.

Gustav has already wreaked havoc across the Caribbean. Up to 25 inches of torrential rain caused floods and mudslides that killed eight people in the Dominican Republic and 15 in Haiti.

On the first anniversary of Katrina, the US president, George Bush, acknowledged that his government’s response had been woefully inadequate. Many of the city’s residents, especially black people and the poor, believe they were abandoned when the hurricane struck.

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