New Orleans mayor orders mass evacuation ahead of Hurricane Gustav (Lead)

August 31st, 2008 - 6:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 31 (RIA Novosti) The mayor of New Orleans has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the entire city as Hurricane Gustav approaches the US Gulf Coast. Ray Nagin said residents should leave the city in a staggered evacuation by Sunday noon.

Speaking at City Hall, he called Gustav the “storm of the century,” and said: “You need to be scared”.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it,” he added, also saying that, “Anyone who’s thinking of staying, rethink it, get out of town.”

Gustav, which overnight rampaged through western Cuba, is predicted to strengthen to a Category 5 storm over the Gulf of Mexico.

Some 300,000 people have been evacuated in Cuba, but there were no reports of death.

Category 5 is the maximum on the scale, and Nagin said that Gustav was even more powerful than Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city in 2005, killing some 1,800 people and causing damage worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Nagin was mayor of New Orleans when Katrina devastated the city.

“The national weather service is saying that this is the worst possible storm that they can imagine,” the mayor said.

DPA added: Thousands of people were streaming inward from the US states of Mississippi and Louisiana. On Saturday, President George W. Bush declared an emergency in Mississippi and Alabama, allowing the federal government to coordinate disaster relief efforts. He had declared an emergency in Louisiana Friday.

Gustav has already claimed at least 70 lives in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica.

Shipments of crude oil and natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico were hampered Saturday, after the largest US refining company - Valero Energy - cut production as Gustav advanced, Bloomberg financial news reported.

Most of the US oil and gas platforms and pipelines are located in the waters south of Louisiana and east of Texas. The nation’s largest crude oil terminal, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, was also closed because of evacuations.

Republicans could be forced to alter the agenda for their party’s nominating convention Monday with Hurricane Gustav forecast to hit the US Gulf coast the same day.

The Republican National Convention is set to kick off Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota - more than 1,900 km to the north of New Orleans - where the hurricane is likely to hit, along with other areas along the northern Gulf coast.

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain told Fox News in an interview that holding the convention while Gulf coast residents suffer would be insensitive.

“It just wouldn’t be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster,” McCain said.

“So we’re monitoring it from day to day and I’m saying a few prayers too.”

Prominent Republican governors of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida - whose states lie in the projected path of the hurricane - have either cancelled or postponed plans to attend the convention CNN reported.

In the event of a disaster, officials could turn the convention into a service event with a massive telethon to raise money for relief efforts, CNN quoted a McCain campaign official as saying.

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