Mayor C. Ray Nagin said Gustav was larger and more dangerous than Katrina, and pleaded with residents to get out or face enormous flooding and life-threatening winds.
“This is the mother of all storms, and I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it,” he said at an evening news briefing. “This is the real deal, this is not a test. For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
The mayor’s warnings were considerably more dramatic than the forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center, and he may have been trying to shock jaded residents into taking prudent steps. But he said storm surges, particularly on the city’s West Bank, could be twice as high as the neighborhood’s 10-foot levees, and said those choosing to remain in their homes should have an axe to chop through their roof when the floodwaters rise.
The storm, he said, was now 900 miles wide, compared with 400 miles for Katrina. Even the capital of Baton Rouge, 80 miles inland from New Orleans, could experience hurricane force winds of up to 100 m.p.h., he said. But Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said he had no idea what the mayor meant by a 900-mile footprint, saying that hurricane force winds do not extend nearly that far.
Already, hundreds of thousands of residents had begun streaming north from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas stretching from the Florida panhandle to Houston. Most left by car, causing miles of backups on some highways, but New Orleans officials also began a far more carefully planned evacuation of the city’s less mobile residents than took place in 2005. Thousands of city residents began boarding buses and trains ferrying them to shelters in the north.
“I don’t want to be stuck like I was in Katrina,” said Janice McElveen, who was waiting for a bus in the Irish Channel section, recalling being stranded on the Interstate 10 bridge for five days in 2005.