By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 1, 2008 - With Hurricane Gustav hitting the southwestern Louisiana coast, all preparations have been made. "Now, we pray," said an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency today. More than 7,000 National Guardsmen from Florida to Texas have been called up for state missions and are patrolling New Orleans and other cities and towns in the region. Active-duty military personnel are standing by ready to lend a hand if needed, FEMA officials said. U.S. Northern Command is working closely with civilian and state agencies along the Gulf Coast, and will provide needed capabilities if asked.
U.S. Transportation Command, based in Scott Air Force Base, Ill., coordinated the evacuation of 16,000 "special needs" citizens out of the affected areas. Canada sent a CC-177 Globemaster 3 aircraft – the Canadian version of the C-17 – to help evacuate people from Louisiana.
Dubbed Operation Unify, the CC-177 and Canadian Forces crew flew from Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., to Lakefront, La., to aid in the evacuation. The aircraft is part of Canada Command – the Canadian Forces formation responsible for the conduct of all Canadian military routine and contingency domestic operations in North America. The command is working closely with its U.S. counterpart, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Transportation Command, as part of a whole of government approach to ensure appropriate support.
Gustav made landfall near Cocodrie, La., with near 110-mile-per-hour sustained winds. Storm surge could be up to 15 feet and could challenge the levees and flood control projects to the west and south of the city, officials said.
Forecasters said the storm is a category 2 hurricane with winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour. The winds in New Orleans should be somewhat less at a category 1 level – 74 to 95 miles per hour.
Once the storm moves ashore there is a chance it will breed tornadoes and drop significant amounts of rain on an area extending into Northern Louisiana and East Texas. Flooding is a real possibility in those areas, officials said.
"The Army Corps of Engineers informs me that while the levees are stronger than they've ever been, people across the Gulf Coast, especially in New Orleans, need to understand that in a storm of this size there is serious risk of significant flooding," President Bush said following an operations update at FEMA headquarters, yesterday.
President Bush declared the states federal disaster areas well in advance of the storm's approach to make delivering aid easier. Almost 2 million people evacuated in advance of Gustav's approach. News reports indicate the states and federal government's learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the evacuation went smoothly.
"The most important aspect was that people all over the Gulf Coast took this storm seriously," said the FEMA official.