Cary company prepares to help as Gustav approaches
Posted August 30, 2008 1:35 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2008 8:55 a.m. EDT
NEW ORLEANS — A local disaster-recovery company deployed to Louisiana on Saturday afternoon as Hurricane Gustav remained a category 4 storm.
The National Hurricane Center on Saturday called Gustav an "extremely dangerous" storm, which has already killed 78 people as it has rolled across the Caribbean.
The National Weather Service said Gustav could strengthen to a category 5, with maxiumum sustained winds of 155 mph, in the next 24 hours.
Before making landfall the storm could lose some intensity as it encounters cooler waters along the Gulf Coast, WRAL Meteorologist Kim Deaner said.
Gustav has rapidly intensified since the early hours on Saturday.
"For the last couple of days, it's just been wandering around as a tropical storm. We kept expecting it to increase in intensity," WRAL Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.
"And all of a sudden, overnight, it has. It went from a category 2 to a category 3 in just a matter of hours, incredible strengthening."
The increase in the storm's intensity comes as people line up for buses to take them out of New Orleans. Traffic is also heavier on main highways out of the city as residents head north.
New Orleans has yet to call for a mandatory evacuation, but began ushering out the sick, elderly and those without their own transportation.
Cary-based Recovery Logistics began mobilizing 150 workers and equipment to support business clients in Louisiana. The company provides resources and logistical support to help keep wireless businesses operating in the aftermath of natural disasters.
The team will leave in 1.5-mile-long convoy from a warehouse in Sanford, company official Amy Edge said. They will carry with them enough equipment to build a tent city, with portable offices, kitchens and laundry facilities.
Recovery Logistics has provided support during more than 20 natural disasters – including hurricanes, ice storms and fires – during the past nine years, Edge said.
More than 30 Pope Airmen were deployed Saturday afternoon to airports along the Gulf Coast to provide any necessary medical and humanitarian support. The airmen are from Pope’s 43rd Medical Group, 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and 3rd Aerial Port Squadron. They will be stationed out of Acadiana, La., Kenner, La. and Beaumont, Texas.
President Bush called Gulf Coast governors Saturday and told them they would have the full support of the federal government, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
Officials plan to announce a curfew that will mean the arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation order goes out. Police and National Guardsman will patrol after the storm's arrival, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he requested additional search and rescue teams from other states.
Jindal also said the state would likely switch interstate lanes on Sunday so that all traffic would flow north, in the direction an evacuation would follow.
The city had yet to call for a mandatory evacuation, but began ushering out the sick, elderly and those without their own transportation on Saturday. The state has a $7 million contract for more than 700 buses to carry an estimated 30,000 people to shelters.
In New Orleans, a line well over a mile long stretched in six loops through the parking lot at Union Passenger Terminal. Under a blazing sun, many led children or pushed strollers with one hand and pulled luggage with the other. Volunteers handed out bottled water, and medics were nearby in case people became heatsick.
Joseph Jones Jr., 61, wore a towel over his head to block the sun. He'd been in line 2 1/2 hours, but wasn't complaining. During Katrina, he had been stranded on a highway overpass.
"I don't like it. Going someplace you don't know, people you don't know," Jones said. "And then when you come back, is your house going to be OK?"
Many residents said the evacuation was more orderly than Hurricane Katrina, which struck three years ago Friday. But not everyone was happy.
Elizabeth Tell, 67, had been waiting on the corner since 6:30 a.m. for a special needs bus to take her and her dog, Lee Roy, to the station. It was three hours before the first bus arrived, completely full of people in wheelchairs.
"They're not taking care of us down here!" she shouted as the brown-and-white spotted hound mix panted inside his hip-high plastic kennel.
Many residents were not waiting for a formal evacuation call. Cars packed with clothes, boxes and pet carriers drove north among heavy traffic on Interstate 55, a major route out of the city. Gas stations around the city hummed. And nursing homes and hospitals began sending patients farther inland.
There were other signs of people racheting up their plans to leave. ATMs were running out of cash. Long lines were sprouting up at gas stations as motorists filled up their cars. Cases of bottled water were selling briskly at convenience stores.
Police and firefighters were set to go street-to-street with bullhorns over the weekend to help direct people where to go. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, there will be no shelter of last resort in the Superdome. The doors there will be locked.
Those among New Orleans' estimated 310,000 to 340,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones," the city's emergency preparedness director, Jerry Sneed, has warned.
Advocates have criticized the decision not to establish a shelter, warning that day laborers and the poorest residents will still fall through the cracks. As lines at bus stations kept building, about two dozen Hispanic men talked under oak trees near Claiborne Avenue, where on better days they would be waiting to be picked up for day labor.
They had been listening to Spanish radio and television, but none of them knew what to do and were waiting for someone to come by and tell them, said Pictor Soto, 44, of Peru. Told they could take a bus at Union Passenger Terminal, they all shook their heads, fearful that immigration agents would be looking for them.
"The problem is, there will be immigration people there and we're all undocumented," Soto said.
Gustav swelled into a major hurricane south of Cuba, with maximum sustained winds near 145 mph, making it the strongest Atlantic storm of 2008. It could strike the U.S. coast anywhere from Mississippi to Texas by Tuesday.
Forecasters said if Gustav follows the projected path it would likely make landfall on Louisiana's central coast, sparing New Orleans a direct hit. But forecasters caution it is still too soon to say exactly where the storm will hit.
"Any little jog could change where it makes landfall," said Karina Castillo, a hurricane support meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.
The hurricane will not likely affect North Carolina in the foreseeable future.
"In terms of it having an impact here, most likely it's going to get forced west into Texas even after it comes inland," Gardner said. "So we're not likely to see even the remnants of this storm any time soon."
One shop along Magazine Street, its windows covered up, showed a flash of New Orleans' storm humor. "Geaux Away Gustav," it read, giving it a French flair.