Saturday, August 30, 2008
I'm part of an emergency response organization, which at the moment is in full swing preparing for Hurricane Gustav. As and when I can, I'll post updates on what's happening. (Due to my physical limitations - injury-caused partial disability - I can't be part of a team in the field: but I'm qualified on radio, have extensive emergency management background, and can help co-ordinate activities, so I'm on board.)
Gustav is looking more and more worrying. He's already up to a Category 4 hurricane as I write these words, and is bearing down on Cuba. I wouldn't like to be in West Cuba tonight, I can tell you! After crossing Cuba, Gustav will move into the Gulf proper. Given the speed at which he's intensified (from Category 1 to Category 4 in less than 24 hours), I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit Category 5 (the top of the scale) by tomorrow evening.
There's still no mandatory evacuation in place, for obvious reasons. Gustav is still 72 hours or so away from a landfall on the US coast: and current hurricane-modeling technology simply isn't accurate enough to predict a precise location that far out. His track could deviate up to 300 miles either side of its present predicted course in that 72-hour window. The way it looks right now, New Orleans will get wet, and be hammered by tropical-storm-force winds, but be spared a direct hit. However, that could change very quickly. If the high-pressure system over Florida (which is currently forcing Gustav to stay West) should weaken, he could swing East and threaten New Orleans and the Gulf coasts of Mississippi and Alabama: alternatively, if it strengthens or moves a little further South, Gustav could be shoved further to the West and clobber Texas.
The map below shows the current projections (click it to enlarge). The orange lines to either side show possible extremities of movement of Gustav from where he is now. The red line shows his predicted path as of this moment. It's likely to change. A couple of hurricane 'veterans' on our team both feel that Gustav is likely to shift slightly further West, threatening more of Texas and less of Louisiana: but that's a SWAG (Scientific Wild-Assed Guess), not a certainty. Nevertheless, given that they've experienced Heaven knows how many hurricanes between them, I'm willing to take a chance on their guess in our betting pool. I'll let you know if I win!
Anyone with any sense isn't waiting to find out which way Gustav will go. All morning heavy traffic, including a huge number of RV's and vehicles towing trailers, has been passing North through the Alexandria area. The stores, particularly Wal-Mart and other supermarkets, are absolutely swamped with shoppers stocking up on necessities. (I already had most of what I needed, and I nipped into Wal-Mart at 4 a.m. to get the few items I still needed. At that hour it was just about deserted, except for the poor shelf-stockers, who were frantically unpacking truckloads of emergency supplies and laying them out.) You can't buy gasoline containers for love or money; ditto for defensive ammunition. (I've already got mine, thank you very much: and with memories of post-Katrina alarums and excursions firmly in mind, I'll be armed 24/7 until this is over. So will almost every member of our teams.)
We're sending our teams to gathering-points North of the predicted track of the storm. (No, you don't send them directly to where the storm's going to hit. That way your teams end up needing assistance themselves!) We'll have a couple of dozen teams ready to move in as soon as the storm strength decreases.
By the way, for readers in East Texas: don't get complacent. If Gustav comes ashore in the Western half of Louisiana as a Category 5 storm, he's still going to be at Category 2 or 3 when he crosses the Sabine River and hits Texas. Anywhere on a line North from Beaumont, through Lufkin, to Longview is at serious risk of taking a hammering, and if Gustav swings even slightly further to the West, Port Arthur, Houston and Galveston are looking vulnerable. If I lived in any of those areas, I'd be battening down the hatches right now - or getting the hell out of Dodge before the last-minute rush!
Stay safe, readers. This looks like a very bad one.