Gulf Coast Braces for Potential Category 3 Hurricane

Gulf Coast Braces for Potential Category 3 Hurricane

Although still several days away from the Gulf Coast, Tropical Storm Gustav has New Orleans and other still-recovering coastal communities scrambling to prepare for what could turn into a Category 3 hurricane by the time it reaches U.S. shores. The threat comes on the eve of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed and damaged libraries and schools throughout the region.

With campuses in Hattiesburg and Gulfport, Mississippi, and another in New Orleans, William Carey University is among the institutions preparing an emergency communications plan for staff and students; additionally, WCU library and facilities staff were preparing to move library materials and equipment out of the storm’s path, according to the August 28 Hattiesburg American. Among the institutions of higher education in Louisiana that shut down operations until the storm passes is Tulane University, Xavier University of Louisiana, the University of New Orleans, and Loyola University New Orleans. Some 140 miles to the northwest, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette posted on its website that the campus would be closed September 3 “to allow students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to make their preparations and be with their families for the storm.”

The State Library of Louisiana established a blog at noon Central time August 29 to provide a mechanism for libraries to alert the public and colleagues about their status during an emergency situation; four hours later, seven library systems had posted plans to be closed from August 30 until the storm had passed. New Orleans Public Library posted a similar notice on its website.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Gulf Coast libraries served as a major communications resource for displaced people.

Gustav lashed through Jamaica August 29, following a path of destruction though Haiti, where officials have reported 51 people killed by the storm. Later that day, the storm swept across the Cayman Islands and on August 30 it hurtled into Cuba at the strength of a Category 4 hurricane. Projections about Gustav’s path and ferocity vary, putting it anywhere from the Florida panhandle to southeastern Texas by September 2, but with Louisiana appearing to be the most likely place for the storm to hit land as soon as September 1. Katrina killed more than 1,500 people in 2005 and left New Orleans under water.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin left the Democratic National Convention August 27, saying it was “very probable” that he would order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans if a Category 3 storm (with winds of between 111 and 130 miles per hour) got within 60 hours of the city. “There may be some people out there who feel as though if they evacuate this time, they will never come back to the city of New Orleans,” Nagin said during a news conference. “Let me assure you, you can come back to this city. We just want to make sure that everyone is safe. We are better prepared this time,” he added, according to the August 29 New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The Times-Picayune also reported Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s announcement that 150 state-chartered buses were set to arrive in the area that day, with 550 more en route, to help evacuate as many as 35,000 people in the event that Gustav hits.

In commemoration of the third anniversary of Katrina, and in light of the current hurricane season, the Library of Congress has launched a “Learning from Katrina” website, to provide “insight for better responses to record and artifact damage by hurricanes.” Visitors can hear seven interviews with professional conservators who helped salvage collections affected in August 2005.

Posted on August 29, 2008; modified August 30, 2008. Discuss.