Hurricane Gustav churns toward Louisiana, Gulf Coast

September 1st, 2008 - 10:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 1 (DPA) Hurricane Gustav bore down on the deserted city of New Orleans Monday as heavy winds and rain lashed the southern Louisiana coastline ahead of an expected landfall at midday.Winds gusting up to 188 km per hour were reported as the powerful storm sent sea levels rising and knocked out electricity in parts of New Orleans, the news agency CNN reported.

The category 3 storm on the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale cut a path of destruction and killed 80 across the Caribbean before reaching its latest target area early Monday.

With memories of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster that killed 1,800 people, federal, state and local officials moved quickly to evacuate nearly two million residents along the coast from Alabama to Texas.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal estimated that 95 percent of those threatened in Louisiana had headed northwards to shelters, hotels and friends as far away as Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Only around 10,000 people were still in the city, Jindal quoted the New Orleans police chief as saying.

Gustav’s centre was about 137 km south of New Orleans shortly after daybreak, the National Hurricane Centre said. It was moving northwest at about 26 kph, headed for an expected landfall around midday.

In a small consolation, the hurricane watchdog said no more strengthening was expected before landfall.

Even before Gustav hit, there were three deaths of critical care patients who were being evacuated from more than two dozen hospitals in Louisiana.

Jindal said one of those who died had a “do not resuscitate” order that ailing or elderly patients often put into their medical charts.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, in the far-away northern tier of the country, the storm took a political, if not physical, toll.

Republicans meeting to nominate their presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, cancelled the political speeches planned for the convention opening Monday. McCain felt they would be inappropriate as the nation watched the approaching natural disaster.

US President George W. Bush, who got black marks for his administration’s slow response to Katrina in 2005, had already cancelled his appearance in St Paul, saying he needed to go to Texas Monday where rescue and recovery operations were headquartered.

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