NEW ORLEANS Police with bullhorns plan to go street to street this weekend 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.
New forecasts Friday made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit direct or indirect by early next week. That raised the likelihood people would have to flee, and could come as early as Sunday.
Those among New Orleans' estimated 310,000 to 340,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones," Jerry Sneed, the city's emergency preparedness director, has warned.
Gustav was swirling at an agonizingly slow pace near Jamaica on Friday after being blamed for at least 71 deaths in its path. Forecasters said it could hit the Louisiana coast early next week as a major hurricane: the first in the state since Katrina.
At a Big Easy ceremony Friday marking the distaster's third anniversary, the last unclaimed bodies were entombed at a $1.2 million memorial site. Some 1,600 people died in the aftermath of the 2005 storm.
About 200 people attended the ceremony. Many rang hand-held bells at 9:38 a.m., the time that levee breaches that inundated the city are believed to have begun.
"I think God is reminding us that on the eve of Katrina, God can bring nature back," said Russell Honore, the retired Army general who headed up rescue efforts three years ago.
As Katrina approached in 2005, as many as 30,000 people who either could not or would not evacuate New Orleans jammed the Louisiana Superdome and the riverfront convention center. They spent days waiting for rescue in squalid conditions. Some died.
This time, the city has taken steps to ensure no one has an excuse not to leave. The state has a $7 million contract to provide 700 buses to evacuate the elderly, the sick and anyone around the region without transportation.
Officials also plan to announce a curfew that will mean the arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation order goes out.
Today, police planned to roam neighborhoods, directing residents-in-need to pick up points. The city also planned to reach out to churches, hoping to spread the word about where the buses will pick up evacuees.
In an effort to keep track of where people go after they leave the city, officials planned to give evacuees who provided authorities their information ahead of time bar-coded bracelets containing their ID.
Still, advocates for the poor worried that the message would not get to the city's most marginalized residents and that could spell disaster.
Gustav strengthened into a hurricane Friday and appeared to stay on track to hit the Cayman Islands, then western Cuba before moving into the warm waters of the Gulf bound for the U.S. coastline early next week. At 6 p.m. MDT, Gustav's center was about 90 miles east of Grand Cayman, and its top sustained winds had increased to 80 mph.
FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson said Friday he anticipated a "huge number" of Gulf Coast residents will be told to leave the region this weekend.
Those in most need of help the elderly, sick and those without transportation will be moved first. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said buses and trains would begin to evacuate those people beginning early this morning. Those on buses will go to shelters farther north, Sneed said. Those on trains will go to Memphis, Tenn. Neighboring states already were making offers to house evacuees, remembering how many people fled Katrina.
Several parishes announced plans for evacuations beginning today. By early Sunday, Nagin said officials would look at the potential for a mandatory evacuation.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour had already called for the evacuation of residents along the Katrina-scarred coast, many of whom still live in temporary housing. And in Louisiana, residents of low-lying Grande Isle were under a voluntary evacuation order beginning Friday. The community is traditionally one of the first to vacate when tropical weather threatens.
Making the decision about exactly when and where to evacuate was tough. Gustav confounded emergency preparedness officials as its forecast track shifted through the day, confronting them with the possibility of ordering evacuations not only in the New Orleans area but across more than 200 miles of vulnerable coastline. Johnson said officials in four states Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas planned evacuations.
Also, retail gas prices swung higher Friday the first increase in 43 days as analysts warned that a direct hit on U.S. energy infrastructure by Gustav could send pump prices hurtling toward $5 a gallon. Crude prices also rose as worries grew over Gustav's potential impact in the Gulf of Mexico area home to a quarter of U.S. crude supplies and 40 percent of refining capacity.
A gallon of regular gasoline jumped about a penny overnight to a national average of $3.669, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.
That's the first increase since prices peaked at an average $4.114 a gallon on July 17, an all-time high.