NEW ORLEANS The solemn ceremonies for the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Friday for the most part were blown away by Tropical Storm Gustav, which threatens to become a hurricane and poses the biggest threat to New Orleans since the killer 2005 storm.
An early morning symbolic burial service in honor of the unclaimed bodies left behind by Katrina, and a bell ringing service scheduled for 8:38 a.m. MDT when the first levee broke inundating the city were the only events that remained on what would have been a day of remembrance of the devastating storm.
Instead, preparations were under way in the event Gustav struck early next week. The National Guard was scheduled to begin convoying into New Orleans on Friday, while some nursing homes and hospitals planned to start moving patients further inland and the state began moving 9,000 inmates from coastal lockups.
An evacuation order for New Orleans was likely, Mayor Ray Nagin said, but not before Saturday Meanwhile, residents of areas further south could be told to leave starting Friday, Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
Federal, state and local officials expressed confidence that plans put in place since Katrina would protect residents.
"Ladies and gentlmen, in my estimation, I think we're ready for this threat," Nagin told a news conference Thursday.
The state activated 3,000 Guardsmen on Wednesday, another 2,000 on Thursday, Jindal said. Jindal said he has ordered 1,500 of them to be in New Orleans Friday.
The new troops would beef up the 360 Guardsmen who have been in the city since Katrina helping to police the city.
And as far away as New York City, ambulance companies were preparing to send trucks and crews down to the Gulf Coast. Citywide Mobile Response Corp. spokesman Isaac Newman said his company was dispatching five ambulances along with 15 crew members early Friday from its headquarters in the Bronx.
Projections showed Gustav arriving early next week as a Category 3 storm, with winds of 111 mph or greater, anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to eastern Texas. But forecasts are extremely tentative several days out, and the storm could change course and strength.
Mississippi and Louisiana also were beginning preparations to switch interstate lanes so that all traffic would flow north, in the direction an evacuation would follow.
A problem could be the Louisiana State University football game scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge.
Gov. Jindal said he's not planning to have LSU call off its football team's home opener against Appalachian State. The 92,000-seat Tiger Stadium is sold out and thousands of tailgaters will fill the parking lots around it. But Jindal acknowledged that could change because the of the interference with contraflow.
Nagin said people still living in the small trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Katrina should take immediate steps to plan evacuations.
"Travel trailers are unsafe during heavy winds," Nagin said. "I want all of our citizens to make certain they have a plan for leaving the trailers when advised to do so."
If an evacuation is ordered, the city will also put a curfew in place, Nagin said. Anyone who ignores the evacuation order and is on the streets after curfew will be arrested, he said.
The city said it is prepared to move 30,000 residents in an evacuation; estimates put the city's current population between 310,000 to 340,000 people. There were about 454,000 here before Katrina hit. Unlike Katrina, there will be no massive shelter at the Superdome, in fact, no shelter at all was planned for the city.
The city planned to use city buses to pick up people unable to leave on their own and ferry them to a staging area where they would be moved to shelters in northern Louisiana.
The first 150 of 700 buses to move residents inland arrived at a staging area near New Orleans on Thursday, and officials in Mississippi were trying to decide when to move Katrina-battered residents along the coast who were still living in temporary homes, including trailers vulnerable to high wind.
The planning for a potential evacuation is part of a massive outline drafted after Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore three years ago, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans and stranding thousands who couldn't get out in time. Officials expressed confidence those blueprints made them ready for Gustav.
"What you're going to see is the product of three years of planning, training and exercising at all levels of government, starting with the local and the state level and leading up to the federal level," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday from New Orleans. "So we're clearly better prepared."
During Hurricane Katrina, Jindal said more than 1 million people were evacuated. But, he said, if the state needs to evacuate residents in both southwest and southeast Louisiana the number could be twice that.
Jindal stressed that is just an estimate because a lot depends on the storm's track and intensity and officials hoped to know more early Friday.
Governors in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas pre-declared states of emergency in an attempt to build a foundation for federal assistance. Federal officials said resources and personnel to provide post-storm aid were pouring into the Gulf Coast states from other parts of the country Thursday.
Batteries, bottled water, and other storm supplies were selling briskly, and people were filling up at gas stations, worried of spikes in prices and a lack of supply later in the weekend.
Melissa Clark, who lives in neighboring Jefferson Parish, said she's leaving Friday with her family to stay with friends in Clinton, Miss. evacuation order or not. Her husband, who works in maintenance at a nearby hospital, will stay behind.
"I'm not taking any chances this time," the 35-year-old mother of three teenagers said as she waited fifth in line at a Wal-Mart gas station Thursday.
Not everyone made the same plans. In Alabama, many tourists and residents were taking a wait-and-see attitude, more focused on the Labor Day weekend ahead."We plan to sit in a bar and watch the whole thing," joked Greg Lee, a tourist from Clarksville, Tenn. He was grocery shopping with family members, stocking up on cold drinks and planning to stay through the holiday at their beach house at Fort Morgan, down a beach road from Gulf Shores.
Associated Press Writers Michael Kunzelman, Becky Bohrer and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans, Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, Garry Mitchell in Alabama and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss. contributed to this report.