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thedrifter
09-01-08, 09:07 AM
In New Orleans, there's silence before Hurricane Gustav

12:09 AM CDT on Monday, September 1, 2008

By SCOTT FARWELL / The Dallas Morning News
sfarwell@dallasnews.com

NEW ORLEANS – On Sunday, the Big Easy braced for the Big One.

Thousands of people fled on interstates converted into one-way escape routes, National Guardsmen roamed neighborhoods with M-16s, mall parking lots stood vacant, and an eerie silence descended on a world-famous party city.


Mayor Ray Nagin imposed a dawn-to-dusk curfew and issued a warning.

"Looters will go directly to jail. You will not get a pass this time," he said. "You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You will go directly to the big house."

A stubborn few stayed behind.

Cary Calamia, a 52-year-old in cutoff jeans, flip-flops and comb-with-your-fingers hair, said he survived Katrina on thin provisions. This time he's stocked.

"All you need for hurricanes is a barbecue grill and bourbon," he said. "I've got everything I need, and I'm ready."

Hurricane Gustav was set to crash ashore at midday today with frightful force, testing the three years of planning and rebuilding that followed Katrina's devastating blow to the Gulf Coast.

While Gustav isn't as large as Katrina, there was no doubt the storm posed a major threat to a partially rebuilt New Orleans and the flood-prone coasts of Louisiana and southeast Texas.

Many in New Orleans who had planned to stay changed their minds Saturday night, when forecasters said the storm grew to 900 miles across and public officials described Hurricane Gustav in ominous terms.

Rob LaFleur, the 34-year-old owner of Mike's Hardware, was honored by the city after Hurricane Katrina for plucking people off rooftops and running a refugee kitchen in his driveway.

"Last time, we did a lot of good things to help a lot of good folks," he said. "But shame on these people if they stay this time and drown. I spent eight years in the Marines for the adventure. I don't need it anymore."

Mr. LaFleur left for Mississippi on Sunday afternoon.

Large areas of southeast Louisiana, including sections in the greater New Orleans area, could face historic flooding. The storm appears likely to overwhelm the system of levees west of the city that have been under-funded for decades and neglected even as the population has grown.

In addition to winds exceeding 100 mph, officials say the storm could push a 20-foot wall of water – known as storm surge – onto the spongy bays and bayous just west of New Orleans.

Wilfred Breaux and his wife, Mary, live in a home three feet above sea level, directly in the path of Gustav. And they're staying.

"I can't afford to leave," Mr. Breaux said Sunday. "I'm behind on everything right now. We can't afford to lose anything else."

The 60-year-old dump-truck driver said he and his wife never fled a hurricane – Katrina, Rita, Betsy or Camille – and weren't going to leave now.

They've stockpiled 100 gallons of gas, 200 gallons of diesel, two weeks' worth of food and six weeks' worth of water. They have a generator and four life vests, just in case.

"My daughter's in Baton Rouge, and she's crying for us to go over there," he said. "If we can weather this thing, we'll be the happiest people in the world. Not the luckiest – I don't look at luck."

Col. Mike Edmondson, state police commander, said he believed more than 90 percent of the coastal Louisiana population had fled – the largest evacuation in state history.

The Army Corps of Engineers has stockpiled steel pilings, sandbags and metal baskets filled with sand in the event that emergency repairs are needed to fill in levee breaches. Heavy duty helicopters capable of dropping sandbags are on standby.

National Guard soldiers delivered 28-year-old Samantha Corley to a bus stop Sunday morning, the first leg on a journey she says will end in Dallas. She waited with her year-old twins, Noelle and Nicholas, who pulled at bottles containing cherry Kool-Aid.

"I'm tired of running from hurricanes," she said. "I just can't do this anymore."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ellie