NEW ORLEANS - Three years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast, New Orleans residents on Wednesday again faced the prospect of an evacuation as Tropical Storm Gustav loomed.
Not since Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which followed in its wake, have residents faced government orders to evacuate their homes and businesses. Many are still struggling to rebuild their lives in a city famed for its jazz clubs and Mardi Gras festival.
A man pushes his car through a flooded street in Havana August 26, 2008. [Agencies]
On Wednesday, two days before the third anniversary of Katrina's August 29, 2005, landfall, Gustav drifted away from Haiti and the Dominican Republic after killing 22 people. It could hit the US Gulf Coast around Monday.
The storm was expected to strengthen to a hurricane over the Gulf's warm waters, and US landfall could be anywhere from the Florida panhandle to Texas.
But Gustav's most likely track is directly toward New Orleans.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put New Orleans residents on alert, saying evacuations could begin as early as Friday.
City officials said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin would order an evacuation if Gustav looked likely to come ashore with wind speeds over 111 miles per hour (178 kph) -- a Category 3 hurricane or higher on the 5-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
"It's still too early to tell exactly what it's going to do," city emergency preparedness director Jerry Sneed said.
Nagin, the city's public face during Katrina and Rita, cut short his trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver to return home.
THEY ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY
During Katrina and Rita, many city residents ignored mandatory evacuation orders and remained to guard their homes and businesses from looters.
Sneed said residents would not be physically forced to leave their homes during an evacuation order -- which would be given about 30 hours before the storm comes ashore.