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Gulf Coast braces for an onslaught

Oil firms evacuate offshore workers. New Orleans prepares for the worst from Gustav.

August 28, 2008|From the Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — Workers were being moved off oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday and New Orleans was planning for a possible evacuation as Tropical Storm Gustav poured more rain onto Hispaniola island, where 23 people have already died.

Forecasters warned that the storm could plow into the Gulf Coast as a major hurricane by Labor Day, anyplace from South Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

"We know it's going to head into the Gulf. After that, we're not sure," meteorologist Rebecca Waddington said at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "For that reason, everyone in the Gulf needs to be monitoring the storm."

New Orleans hoped to avoid the type of chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina, which struck three years ago this Friday. Mayor Ray Nagin left the Democratic National Convention in Denver to help the city prepare.

On Hispaniola, Gustav killed 15 people in Haiti's southern peninsula, where it dumped at least 12 inches of rain. A landslide buried eight people, including a mother and six of her children, in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Gustav weakened to a tropical storm over Haiti, but was expected to become a hurricane again as early as today over the warm Caribbean waters between Cuba and Jamaica. Its expected path pointed directly at the Cayman Islands, where residents boarded up homes and stocked up on emergency supplies.

Royal Dutch Shell said it was evacuating 300 people from rigs Wednesday, and other producers were doing the same. Transocean Inc., the world's largest offshore drilling contractor, said all 11 of its Gulf rigs were pulling up and securing drill pipe and other underwater equipment as a precaution.

Any damage to the oil infrastructure could send U.S. pump prices soaring, possibly before the busy Labor Day weekend.

Gustav is particularly worrisome because there are few surrounding wind currents capable of diminishing its power, the hurricane center said. "Combined with the deep warm waters, rapid intensification could occur in a couple of days."

A hurricane warning was in effect Wednesday evening for parts of Cuba, including the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.

Nearly 30,000 people were evacuated from low areas in eastern Cuba, and state television showed muddy, waist-high water damaging homes.

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