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"The city of Houma is a ghost town right now." -- Houma city official on WWL radio
People are focused on New Orleans, but New Orleans is inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Latest projections for Gustav's landfall is Lafourche or Terrebonne Parish (a parish, in Louisiana, is like a county elsewhere), and the largest city in the area is Houma, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish.
Houma has a population of roughly 32,000; it's fairly rural and surrounded by the vanishing wetlands you may be hearing about lately. Its newspaper is Houma Today (Web site may be overwhelmed at the moment). This afternoon, staff writer Ben Lundin analyzed the impact that Gustav may have on Houma and environs:
The levee, widely hailed for protecting vulnerable communities like Golden Meadow and Galliano during past storms, is not capable of handling Gustav's expected 18-foot storm surge, said Windell Curole, levee director for both parishes.
The levee, which rings the parish's southern reaches, is about 13 feet at its highest point just north of Leeville. But officials have long said that the levee, like much of coastal Louisiana, has been sinking for years, and some spots once built to 13 feet are now at 10 feet. At its lowest points, the levee is anywhere from 8 to 10 feet high....
If south Lafourches levee overtops, there is a high likelihood the south Lafourche flooding could push massive flodding as far north as central Lafourche that likely would take four or five days to subside, Curole said.
If Gustav is reduced to a Category 2 storm, but it moves slowly and churns water throughout south Lafourche, the same level of flooding could occur, he added.
Curole predicts the levee will not fail unless its overtopped.
The expected storm surge, while still posing massive flooding for much of Terrebonne and Lafourche, is less than predicted late Saturday night.
Then, based Gustavs strength and projected track at the time, meteorologists said both parishes could expect 20- to 25-foot wall of water to slam their coasts.
But even 16 to 18 feet now predicted would likely flood much of Houma, as Terrebonne Parish lacks any hurricane-protection levees to blunt the surges thrust north from the Gulf.
Experts say parts of both parishes unaccustomed to flooding could see homes and businesses inundated under the the latest projections.
People elsewhere in Louisiana and Mississippi often (rightly, in my opinion) feel that New Orleans gets all the attention when a hurricane approaches south Louisiana; Plaquemines Parish was inundated during Katrina, and got nary a mention in national media.
Let's hope Houma doesn't become a national name any time soon.
I'm hearing terrible things about the evacuation on I-59 around Hattiesburg, Miss., where it sounds like things are falling apart completely:
I am livid with the information we are receiving from the authorities and the media about traffic on I-59. We left our home at 3:45am and didn't get to Hattiesburg until 1:00pm. The contraflow, which we took, was a joke. It only lasted about 10 miles or so, and was bumper-to-bumper from start to finish.
And authorities and media keep saying how wonderful contraflow is and keep downplaying the reports by drivers that there is serious traffic problems on I-59. It is irresponsible and potentially fatal to families to continue to tell them to evacuate at this time and to tell them that it is safe to go down I-59. People will run out of gas. People will not even be able to outrun the storm at this point.
It is a travesty. They are lying. And I'm tired and angry.
- Contraflow on 59 is the superdome of gustav.
- Ends around hattiesburg. Pointless. Slowing us down.
- Bottlenecking 5 lanes into 2
- Finally hit hattiesburg. 13 hrs on road. Cant go more.
- Looking 4 a hotel. Need miracle.
And most worrisome, Humid City Loki, over a 4-hour period stuck in traffic:
- Contraflow east is gustavs superdome
- Cell dying turning off
- Need help in hattiesberg dm me
- Need help in hattiesburg, dm me
- Phone dying need temp ac 4 animals
What's going on in Hattiesburg? Where is the help?
JACKSON, MISS., 4 P.M. - -The view from my hotel window. See that building with the peaked dome? It's just across a couple of streets from where I'm staying. The rumor was that FEMA had set up an encampment there for the people who can't find lodging. So I grabbed my camera and pad and ID and went over there.
Wrong. Some serious state police stopped me at the gate. No FEMA camp there. I figured it was a National Guard staging area and kept going, looking for a place to eat lunch.
Stopped at a Books-A-Million to find out where I might get a good catfish plate. The nice lady there gave me a couple of suggestions, expressed sympathy for all the people who arriving from Louisiana, and we just chatted for a while.
Out of nowhere, she said: "I heard McCain is coming."
"To New Orleans?"
"No...to Jackson," she said. It just whizzed over my head until I got back to my hotel and found this story on the wires:
Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are traveling to Mississippi on Sunday to check on people getting prepared for Hurricane Gustav.
Their trip comes just as delegates are preparing for the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday.
Aides say McCain and his wife Cindy will join Palin in traveling to Jackson, Miss., Sunday at the invitation of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour because of concerns about people threatened by the storm, which was heading into the Gulf of Mexico and menacing the same area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. The storm could hit the United States as early as Monday afternoon.
The McCains and Palin will receive a briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency a permanent operations center monitoring hurricane response.
Great. A political photo op, right outside my hotel. Just across from the Whataburger.
I just spoke to a buddy of mine, Dr. Todd Belott a general surgeon and he said regardless of what Jefferson Parish President Aaron Brussard has said, West Jefferson Medical Center is open for business. Belott is hunkering down with 600 other WJMC staff members and spirits are high. The hospital is completing a vertical evacuation, moving equipment up from the first floor to higher floors. Some patients have evacuated out and Belott thinks the hospital has about 90 patients currently. So if you're in need of medical assistance not an evacuation site WJMC is here to help.
UPDATE: There are now only 30 patients. "Everyone is doing their part, the chairman of neurosurgery is carrying patients onto the bus," says Belott. "It is really incredible."
JACKSON, MISS., 11:15 AM CST -- The lobby is full of people cellphoning, Blackberrying, and generally trying to find some place to stay. The staff is being very kind, refilling coffee urns and answering phones that will not stop ringing. Cars keep pulling up, drivers run inside, get turned away, and head for the next hotel.
Some guys had set up an impromptu barbershop conversation in the driveway. One was talking about his friend who had been left in the city to work for Entergy, the utility company. "But he's in St. Charles Parish," he said dolefully. St. Charles called a mandatory evac yesterday at noon:
The current track presents storm surge implications for the entire parish. Because of Gustavs likely angle of approach, storm surges will be pushed up into the Barataria Basin and into the unprotected West Bank of St. Charles Parish. Storm surge is of particular concern within the Sunset Drainage District in Des Allemands. East Bank hurricane protection levees could possibly be overtopped due to wind-driven storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain.
Storm surge modeling shows possible surges of 9 feet in Bayou Gauche and 12 feet in Lulings Willowdale subdivision. Storm surges are projected at 12 to 13 feet on the East Bank, testing the muster of the hurricane protection levee there.
A woman was in the breakfast nook, making frantic phone calls. She had a stable in an affected region. Several of the horse owners had left town for Labor Day and could not be reached. It didn't look like she was going to have the resources to evacuate the horses.
A Pomeranian was checking out at the front desk, trailed by a family that looked like they'd packed for a 3-week tour on the QE2.
In the lobby, I met a family in the lobby who had been there since 7 am, waiting for a room that had been reserved. The grandpa looked like a bayou man, down to the burrcut and the suspenders. I asked him where he was from. "The woods," he said. "Des Allemands."
His daughter looked at the TV, which was broadcasting generic-weather broadcasts from CNN. She was disgusted. "I guess they don't get 4, 6, or 8 up here," she said, referring to the New Orleans stations and their meteorologists, which are greatly trusted by the general population during emergencies...and have fiercely partisan fans and detractors.
"Yeah, I could use me some Carl Arredondo," a nearby woman said.
"Where you from?" I asked the Bob Breck fan.
She paused, and then said: "Gretna."
(Gretna -- the West Bank -- is not where you want to be from this week.)
"I don't know if I can live in hotels for three or four weeks this time," she said, "not even knowing if I'll have a home to get back to."
On CNN right now, both political parties are trying to spin Gustav to their advantage as fast as they can, and I am having my own fantasies of storm surges of 12 to 13 feet taking out a few political talking heads.
Which probably means I should get off the computer for a while.
Slept remarkably well. I think the secret was
a large tranquilizer a nice hot glass of warm 2% milk.
Ray Nagin is on MSNBC now. Good news: the storm degraded to a Cat 3 and picked up speed. Bad news: the track is still the worst possible one, at least for the people of New Orleans and thereabouts.
Contraflow -- the procedure where both sides of a freeway become one-way -- is in full effect. Various reports on whether roads are easy-breezy or a nasty stop-and-go affair enlivened by screaming/sleeping children, cranky pets, Mommy and Daddy screaming at each other, and the phrase "You're just going to have to pee in a bottle."
The New Orleans City Council is being sent to Baton Rouge.
The West Bank of New Orleans is now under mandatory evac. Evac starts at noon on the East Bank (where the French Quarter, Garden District, etc. are located, you tourist you).
Trop storm forces winds expected in the city early Monday, and things should go down down down from there.
Nagin: "Anyone who's thinking around and becoming a looter" will be sent "directly to Angola Prison...in the general population." If that doesn't scare you, nothing will.
Pres. Bush and Vice Pres. Cheney have announced they won't be coming to the GOP Convention because of Gustav. That sound you hear from millions of cars stuck on the highways is bipartisan laughter.
I missed this when it happened because even evacuating a day early can take awhile, but Deadspin.com had this interesting story regarding the Saints yesterday. And by interesting I mean shitty. The title alone is enough to send New Orleans residents into a tizzy: "Get Ready For The Los Angeles Saints In 2009...Maybe."
Just a reminder for jittery evac-ed locals and interested folk from around the world: you can get live streaming of what's going on in New Orleans and South Louisiana on WWL-AM radio. (There's a quick registration, but you can always give 'em a phony email if you want.)
Try not to laugh at our accents. We don't laugh at yours.
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