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Calm before storm as New Orleans empties

 Calm before storm as New Orleans empties
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With Hurricane Gustav just hours away from the US, New Orleans is virtually a ghost town.

Most of the city’s 293,000 inhabitants have obeyed the mandatory evacuation order – the memories of the devastation wreaked by Katrina just three years ago are still fresh in people’s minds.

Gustav is now expected to hit as a Category Three, rather than a maximum Category Five hurricane – but then so did Katrina.

State governor, Bobby Jindal, told those tempted to stay behind: “I don’t want people in our coastal communities thinking they’re going to ride out this storm or that they should ride out this storm.”

In contrast to 2005, the evacuation has been well organised, with public transport laid on for poorer residents – those who suffered the most last time round.

And the army has been brought in to prevent post-storm looting.

But nobody knows how the town’s new but incomplete, floodwalls will hold up.

Around two million people have fled the US’s Gulf Coast.

In the Gulf itself, oil companies have shut down virtually all production – three years ago, Katrina destroyed 100 of the 4,000 off shore oil platforms that provide a quarter of all US crude.

This time, the industry says it is better prepared. Nevertheless, in special trading on Sunday ahead of the hurricane, oil futures rose by US$ 1.54.