Gustav Impact Zone Tightens, Louisiana Evacuations Begin

Hurricane forecasters have tightened the probable landfall zone for Gustav and are now saying it may come ashore slightly west of New Orleans, putting the city squarely on the wrong side of the storm’s worst winds and flooding. An evacuation of Louisiana’s barrier islands is underway at this writing. A mandatory evacuation of Lafourche Parish begins at 8am tomorrow. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is in a planning session with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff to determine when to make the call to evacuate New Orleans. Jindal says the order may come later tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on the next few hours of the storm’s movement. Jindal has ordered the National Guard to prepare to move into the city to protect business areas from looting.

UPDATE: Forecasters now say that Hurricane Gustav will likely be a Category 4 storm when it reaches land. Mayor Ray Nagin says the evacuation order for New Orleans will likely come tomorrow. My contact at Southern Decadence says events will go on as planned until an official order to evacuate is issued.

UPDATE II: Voluntary evacuations have begun in New Orleans. The mandatory evacuation order for the six New Orleans parishes will be given at noon Saturday unless the storm stalls.

UPDATE IV: The latest bulletin from the Associated Press says the mandatory evacuation is on for New Orleans and six surrounding parishes. French Quarter hotels have begun shutting down.

New Orleans police with bullhorns plan to go street to street 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.

Authorities issued the warning Friday as new forecasts made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit — direct or indirect — as early as Monday. And those among New Orleans’ 310,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept “all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones,” said the city’s emergency preparedness director, Jerry Sneed.

Several parishes in the New Orleans area announced plans for mandatory evacuations beginning Saturday. Mayor Ray Nagin said it was possible thousands of people who need city help could start moving out Saturday as the first wave of a full-scale evacuation.