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Powerful Gustav plots a path to New Orleans

A home collapses into a river swollen by Gustav in Kingston, Jamaica, Friday. Four people were reported dead in Jamaica.

Associated Press

A home collapses into a river swollen by Gustav in Kingston, Jamaica, Friday. Four people were reported dead in Jamaica.

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Gustav became a hurricane again Friday as it moved through the Cayman Islands, the start of a buildup that could take it to the U.S. Gulf Coast as a fearsome Category 3 storm three years after Hurricane Katrina.

New forecasts Friday made it increasingly clear that New Orleans will get some kind of hit — direct or indirect — by early next week. That raised the likelihood that people would have to flee, and the city suggested a full-scale evacuation call could come as soon as Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gustav could grow to a Category 3 storm, with winds above 111 mph, by the time it hits the Gulf Coast. Gustav could strike anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas, but forecasters said there is a better-than-even chance that New Orleans would get slammed by at least tropical-storm-force winds.

The hurricane center said top winds increased to near 80 mph. Late Friday, Gustav was centered 25 miles west-southwest of Little Cayman Island and moving northwest near 10 mph, according to the Hurricane Center. Top winds were about 80 mph.

Gustav, which killed 71 people in the Caribbean, reached the Cayman Islands, a tiny offshore tax haven studded with resorts and cruise-ship souvenir shops, on Friday evening before crossing Cuba's cigar country and heading into the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday.

"Gustav could become a major hurricane near the time it crosses western Cuba," the Hurricane Center said.

The storm killed four people in a daylong march across the length of Jamaica, where it ripped off roofs and downed power lines. About 4,000 people were displaced from their homes, with about half relocated to shelters.

At least 59 people died in Haiti and eight in the Dominican Republic.

As much as 80 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's oil and gas production could be shut down as a precaution if Gustav enters as a major storm, weather research firm Planalytics predicted. Oil companies have already evacuated hundreds of workers from offshore platforms.

Retail gas prices rose Friday for the first time in 43 days as analysts warned that a direct hit on gulf energy infrastructure could send pump prices hurtling toward $5 a gallon. Crude oil prices ended slightly lower as some traders feared supply disruptions and others bet the government will release supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

President Bush declared an emergency in Louisiana, a move that allows the federal government to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas. Officials in Washington and New Orleans expressed confidence that construction of massive floodgates would provide adequate protection against Gustav.

Thunderstorms associated with Gustav were bringing heavy downpours Friday to parts of central Cuba and evacuations were ordered in flood-prone areas. Authorities in tobacco-rich western Cuba, where Gustav is expected to cross the island, hauled 465,000 sacks of tobacco to higher ground for safekeeping and began distributing extra rations of milk and bread.

>>storms' roundup

Gustav and Hanna

In New Orleans, those among the 310,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones," said the city's preparedness director, Jerry Sneed. Police with bullhorns plan to go street to street with a tough message about getting out: This time there will be no shelter of last resort. The doors to the Superdome will be locked. Those who stay will be on their own.

Mayor Ray Nagin said a mandatory evacuation order was possible for Sunday. At that point, residents would be told, though not physically forced, to leave New Orleans, either in their own vehicles or on city-chartered buses and trains.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour said Katrina victims still living in temporary housing along the coast should begin evacuating this weekend.

Tropical Storm Hanna, meanwhile, was projected to curl westward into the Bahamas by early next week. It had sustained winds near 50 mph.

Powerful Gustav plots a path to New Orleans 08/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 2:43pm]

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