Thursday, September 4, 2008

Updates on Gustav, Hanna & Ike; now Josephine

Gustav evacuees returning to overwhelmed infrastructure

Hundreds of thousands of Gustav evacuees began flooding back home Wednesday to face widespread power outages, food shortages and limited resources...

Gathered from wire reports-Hundreds of thousands of Gustav evacuees began flooding back home Wednesday to face widespread power outages, food shortages and limited medical care. Facing rising pressure, officials in most jurisdictions along the Gulf Coast began lifting evacuation orders even as they expressed serious reservations about conditions returning residents would face. In particular, officials warned the sick and elderly to stay away.

"We'd like to say 'welcome back,' but it's not the way we'd like to do it, with no electricity, no traffic lights," Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, told a local television station.

"There is no excuse for delay."

- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Nearly all of the nearly 2 million people evacuated from southern Louisiana are expected to return in the next few days, potentially overwhelming the area's infrastructure. Highways and other roads became jammed as evacuees headed home. In New Orleans, early returnees had a hard time finding supplies, particularly gasoline.

State officials said 1.2 million residential and business customers were without power in southern Louisiana. Outages in Jefferson County's sewage plants prompted officials there to asked residents of the New Orleans suburb not to use any water, because it could cause massive sewage backups in homes and businesses. Of major concern is the number of hospitals operating on emergency generators.

Virtually all of Baton Rouge, the state capital, is without electricity. Fifty-seven percent of customers in New Orleans are without power. In some jurisdictions, utilities have said it could be weeks before power is restored. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal expressed frustration at the pace of the power restoration, calling it "unacceptable."

"There is no excuse for delay," he said.

President Bush, who toured the area Wednesday, added to the sense of urgency, asking utilities in neighboring states to send extra manpower. Philip Allison, spokesman for Entergy, the main electric utility in the region, said more than 10,000 workers from Entergy, its contractors and other out-of-state utilities were at work. He said any delay was caused by the "size and scope of the damage" from Gustav. Hospitals without power and running on generators either received extra generators or were moving critical-care patients to other facilities, said Jolie Adams, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Chris Wormuth, a doctor at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, La., was concerned about the 100-bed hospital and clinic, which is using emergency generators.

"We're open for the moment," Wormuth said. "But how long we can stay open we're not sure."

To forestall looting, 1,500 National Guard troops patrolled New Orleans on Wednesday, guarding gas stations and grocery stores and handing out ice. At one of the few open gas stations in downtown New Orleans, owner Harry Leslie surveyed a line of cars and said, "I am shocked I'm this busy. ... I'll stay open as long as I have gas, but it is not looking good."

As residents returned to spoiled food and shuttered grocery stores, relief organizations began moving in. Churches that have power started massive feeding efforts, and the Salvation Army was operating 65 feeding trucks along the Gulf Coast, a spokesman said, with the ability to feed 560,000 people a day. New Orleans originally had planned to admit evacuees by phases, with major corporations and retailers permitted to return Wednesday and the general populace today. But after scenes of frustrated evacuees stuck at police checkpoints, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin dropped the phased re-entry system.

Hanna veers; Georgians watch for Ike, Josephine

Early morning fears gave way Wednesday to late-in-the-day relief as Tropical Storm Hanna took a more easterly path away from Georgia’s coast toward landfall in South Carolina. As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported that Hanna was expected to reach hurricane strength Thursday morning as it turned northward.

Projections call for Hanna’s eye to pass 120 to 140 miles east of Savannah, and 75 miles east of South Carolina before making landfall sometime Saturday afternoon, probably near Wilmington, N.C. The storm had earlier been projected to smack Cumberland Island off Georgia’s southern coast before skipping northward.

Georgians, yet again, appeared to have dodged the hurricane bullet. Vigilance, though, remained the watchword from St. Marys to Savannah as emergency management officials weren’t quite ready Wednesday evening to bid Hanna adieu. And, with Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Josephine brewing farther down in the Atlantic, locals cautioned that relief may be short-lived.

“We’re watching other ones out there.

They’re lining up like choo-choo trains.”

- Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman.

Earlier in the week, state and county emergency officials considered issuing a voluntary evacuation order for coastal counties, but no evacuations were suggested Wednesday. Freighters will continue to head up and down the Savannah River without interruption, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.

“Currently, everything is business as usual,” said ports spokesman Robert Morris. “It looks like the coast of Georgia may very well dodge another storm.”

Not everybody is convinced the threat has passed. Some coastal residents remain prepared to head for higher ground. “The water won’t do anything to me and I won’t be thrilled if the power is off, but it’s the wind — I’ve got glass windows facing toward the ocean — that I’m worried about,” said Tanya Fowler, who lives 150 feet from the Tybee Pier. “If the wind gets going, I’ll leave.”

After 11 p.m. Wednesday, Hurricane Ike was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, with 135 mph winds and a 20- to 30-mile eye. Wind speeds in the storm jumped by 35 mph between 5 and 8 p.m. Along the coast, hurricane staples — bottles of water, batteries, bread, gas cans, flashlights, lantern oil — disappeared from grocery and convenience store shelves. Storm shutters covered windows at Savannah’s City Hall. Hotels along Interstate 95 reported brisker-than-usual business for post-vacation September.

“The hurricane ran away a lot of business. We’ve had several cancellations,” said Woody Hemphill, who runs River’s End Campground and R.V. Park on Tybee. “We try to discourage people from canceling until the storm gets closer to land. But they want a written guarantee that the storm is not coming.”

A 20-foot sailboat listed sideways on Tybee’s beach below the pier, courtesy of Hanna. A handful of houses on Tybee wore plywood patches. Trash cans, recycling bins and other potential flying objects were stowed away. Sandbags awaited placement alongside the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. And the lifeguard stands were carted from the beach Wednesday and stacked on 19th Street.

“People swim at their own risk,” said Jonathan Thomas, the lifeguard in charge. “The waves and the riptides will probably be worse Thursday than they were today. But when [weather forecasters] say the storm is heading up north, I’m relieved.”

Tybee’s mayor, though, is paid to fear the worst. “The path of this storm has changed so many times, so there’s nothing to say it won’t change again,” he warned. “We hope and pray it misses us entirely and we have another beautiful weekend down here. We’re watching other ones out there,” said Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman. “They’re lining up like choo-choo trains.”

While there was no sign of folks boarding up on St. Simons Island, grocers were doing a brisk business in bottled water. And Hanna remained high on the minds of those who live on the Golden Isles.

“That’s all my customers are talking about,” said Brenda Kennedy, owner of the Island Hairport salon. Some older residents are leaving, Kennedy said as she loaded six bottles of water into her trunk at the Winn Dixie. “They’re going to Macon and Atlanta.”

Frank Beckum, 77, was among those planning to evacuate Thursday morning. Beckum said he wanted to assure he had access to dialysis, so he was going to stay with his wife’s family in Hawkinsville until Hanna passes by. Beckum said he got a taste of Hurricane David in 1979 and the relatively mild storm was all he needed. “I promised the good Lord and the two drunks I was with that I wouldn’t do that again.”


No comments: