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Gustav builds slowly; New Orleans and Louisiana coast in its path

While most journalistic eyes are fixed on politics and Election 2008, there’s a storm brewing to our South and a pre-emptive protective plan underway to save lives and hopefully prevent a repeat performance of the Katrina disaster. A memorial service was being held at 9:38  a.m. today, the time the first levee was breached in the Katrina hurricane that claimed 1800 lives.

National Hurricane Center map shows the projected path of Gustav, which is expected to be a Cat 3 or higher storm when it makes landfall. In its path, New orleans, which is already preparing to evacuate parts of the city.

Last week hurricane-savvy Floridians learned the kind of devastation a tropical storm, albeit a persistent one, can do. Fay ambled leisurely across the state with three landfalls and rain measured by the foot. Now tropical storm Gustav, currently cruising the shores of Cuba, is poised to hit the warm Gulf of Mexico waters and exploded into a Category 3, possible a Cat 4, storm before it rocks the coastline of east Texas or Louisiana.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of Katrina and its first levee breach. Louisiana  officials, fearing a repeat performance,  have already pre-declared a state of emergency for Louisiana and have 750 buses on tap to evacuate at least 30,000 people from the most vulnerable areas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has faith in the levee repairs and rebuilding. But the fact is that New Orleans is a below sea level basin and is especially vulnerable to anything at or over a Cat 3 storm, especially if Gustave gets lazy and decides to hang around a bit. That’s what Fay did to Florida last week. Louisiana has activated 5,000 National Troops to deal with preparation for the storm and to do whatever needs to be done in its wake next week.

Texas followed suit with a disaster status for its eastern coast, and Mississippi, which will be on the stronger easterly side of the storm, has declared a state of emergency. All this nearly four days before the storm breaks over land. Offshore oil rigs are running with minimal crews and may be fully evacuated as the storm develops. The oil market is reacting to the potential disruption of the Gulf oil flow with a rise in crude oil prices.

The eye of the storm will pass west of New Orleans, but close enough to New Orleans that it will be a true test of just how well rebuilt levees and canals will do with that treacherous eastern edge of a storm.

New Orleans may be closing its floodgates at Lake Ponchatrain Saturday, putting a halt to Union Pacific and other rail traffic.  Union Pacific is the largest railroad in America, is routing trains through Memphis TN and St. Louis MO.

National Hurricane Center 5-day projection of wind from the Gulf storm, Gustav (left), and the Atlantic storm, Hanna

Complicating this picture is a second tropical depression, Hanna, churning up and gaining strength in the Atlantic. Hanna is nearing hurricane strength, and the five day cone puts it on an easterly track with a bend toward the Carribead Island by Monday.

National Hurricane Center five-day wind charts show Hanna’s winds overlapping Gustav’s by Monday, which could make from some interesting weather across Florida as the outer bands of these potentially giant storms collide.

Tennesseans need to be aware of Gustav’s approach, since hurricane winds and residual rain could drift up in the aftermath of a Louisiana landfall. We need rain; we probably don’t need a Fay-like deluge from a slow-moving or stalled storm.

Waiting in the wings, deep in the Atlantic waters, are two more areas  “of interest” that meteorologists are keeping an eye on.

While skeptics say Gustav isn’t even a hurricane yet, state and federal officials, having already watched Fay wreak havoc, are willing to look ahead with a conservative eye and prefer to err on the side of caution. No one wants a repeat of the Katrina tragedy.


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