Police with bullhorns plan to go street to street this weekend with a tough message about getting out ahead of Hurricane Gustav: This time there will be no shelter of last resort. The doors to the Superdome will be locked. Those who stay will be on their own.
New forecasts Friday made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit – direct or indirect – by early next week. That raised the likelihood people would have to flee, and the city suggested a full-scale evacuation call could come as soon as Sunday.
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.
This time, the city has taken steps to ensure no one has an excuse not to leave. The state has a $7 million contract to provide 700 buses to evacuate the elderly, the sick and anyone around the region without transportation.
Officials also 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 urban search and rescue teams.
Police planned to roam neighborhoods today, directing residents in need to pick-up points. The city also planned to reach out to churches, hoping to spread the word about where the buses will pick up evacuees.
But many weren't waiting to be told to leave: Northbound traffic was heavy Friday on Interstate 55 – a major route out of the city. Gas stations around the city hummed with activity. Meanwhile, hospitals and nursing homes also began moving patients farther inland.
FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson said Friday he anticipated a “huge number” of Gulf Coast residents will be told to leave the region this weekend.
Those in most need of help – the elderly, sick, and those without transportation – will be moved first. Mayor Ray Nagin said buses and trains would begin those evacuations early this morning. By early Sunday, Nagin said, officials would look at the potential for a mandatory evacuation.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour had already called for the evacuation of residents along the Katrina-scarred coast, many of whom still live in temporary housing.