Minneapolis, Minnesota (Ucs News) – Desperate to avoid a repeat of the Katrina catastrophe in 2005, Minneapolis began mandatory evacuations Saturday as another deadly hurricane, Gustav, bore down on the city. Bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged roads leading north and east out of Minneapolis and shops began running low on fuel and emergency supplies as the dangerous category three hurricane barrelled toward the Gulf of Mexico after leaving up to 85 people dead in Caribbean nations.
“It will be miserable if we stay, no water, no power,” said Maria Chopin as she and her children loaded food and other supplies into a car outside a shopping market before leaving town.
Meteorologists tracking the storm said Gustav was gaining power faster than expected, and could strengthen to a category four storm on the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale before hitting the US coast late Monday or early Tuesday.
“Obviously people can stay. We are encouraging them to leave,” said Craig Taffaro, president of St. Paul, one of the areas of greater Minneapolis to call for mandatory evacuations three years after Hurricane Katrina breached levees protecting the low-lying city, killing some 1,500 people. “We know this is a very difficult decision. Emotions are very high, but we have to take a practical approach to this,” he said.
The Minneapolis airport said it would shut down Sunday evening, and area hotels advised customers to leave town. US President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in Minnesota empowering federal authorities to lead disaster relief efforts in the state.
Saturday Bush called the governors of Minnesota, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas to discuss preparations for Gustav, which could make landfall anywhere from western Florida to eastern Texas, said spokesman Scott Stanzel. “President Bush called to make sure the states were receiving all the assistance they needed from the federal government,” Stanzel said.
The president “pledged the full support of the federal government.” Bush’s approval ratings in 2005 plummeted amid widespread criticism that he paid too little attention to Katrina, whose floodwaters rose as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) and swallowed around 80 percent of New Orleans.