Gustav Leaves 23 Dead in Wake toward Gulf Coast

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Gustav Leaves 23 Dead in Wake toward Gulf Coast

By W.B. King

NEW YORK -- Two days after dropping torrential rains and winds on Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic, and killing 23 people, Hurricane Gustav is on track to clip Cuba and Jamaica before heading into the Gulf of Mexico with a U.S. landfall in its sights.

Among probable targets is New Orleans, which sits near the middle of Gustav’s center range of possible landfall locations.

"Models continue to project landfall between Galveston Bay, Texas and Mobile Bay, Ala. Given what happened three years ago with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, government officials are strongly encouraging evacuations in New Orleans and other areas along the coast," David Frieberg, marketing director for Planalytics Inc., told CSNews Online.

"For c-stores this means more people will be on the roads this weekend in parts of Texas through central Louisiana and Alabama and on up into the Mid-South region. Traffic will be high and demand for gasoline and consumables will spike."

As the three year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, business owners and residents are bracing for the worst.

"There are still a lot of people here, and we are busy, but are planning to leave over the weekend," Tony Bach, owner of St. Vincent Convenient Store in downtown New Orleans told CSNews Online. "We haven’t ordered more supplies because if the storm hits hard, we are leaving. But people are busy buying things and talking about the storm. Nobody is sure what’s going to happen."

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal isn’t taking any chances either, as he declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. "We are going to hope for the best, but we’re preparing for the worst," Jindal told CNN.

The worst includes deploying 3,000 National Guard members to vulnerable areas in Louisiana yesterday, to assist with securing shelters and preparing for possible evacuations, Jindal told CNN.

Speaking from her Baton Rouge office, Louisiana Oil Marketers and Convenience Store Association Executive Director Natalie Isaacks told CSNews Online the organization has been in contact with state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency requesting that tanker fuel limits be waived in order to deliver as much gasoline as possible to area stations and convenience stores to meet demand. “We need the refineries to be able to load more gas and get it to the people," Isaaks told CSNews Online.

Shell Oil Products US and Motiva Enterprises LLC are also taking proactive steps by encouraging consumers to prepare for potential evacuations and do their part to maximize fuel supply.

"We typically see the most significant increase in fuel purchases less than 24 hours before a hurricane is set to make landfall. This last minute surge in fuel purchases can cause temporary and sporadic outages, so we encourage our employees and our customers to fill up early and often," David Sexton, president of Shell Oil Products US, said in a statement. "To help better manage fuel demand in your area, fill your tank up when a Hurricane Watch is announced, typically 36 hours prior to landfall. Early fill ups help us better understand demand and allow us to replenish stations before the storm hits."

Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which operates Enterprise Products Partners LLC’s deepwater Independence Hub in the Gulf of Mexico, is set to evacuate 600 employees and contractors currently working offshore if the hurricane continues to build strength.

"We are monitoring Gustav on a continuous basis and are preparing to begin evacuating our employees and contractors as the storm continues to move toward our operations," spokesman John Christiansen said in a statement.

Devon Energy Corp. spokesperson, Alesha Leemaster, said the company, which operates two deepwater rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, is "monitoring the storm in the event of preparing for evacuations," she said. "The storm’s path is uncertain at this point, but we will take action as necessary. We have planned no shut-ins at this time."

As Bach continues to conduct business at his downtown New Orleans location, he’s hoping for the best. "We bought this store six years ago, and we were able to get out before Katrina hit us," he said. "We all learned a lesson and more people will leave this time. Until we leave, though, we will stay open."