Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna update: Sunday, 9 a.m.
Louisiana: As predicted, mandatory evacuation was indeed called for Sunday morning in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Gustav, which is expected to make landfall Monday. Visitors as well as residents are now required to leave. Visitors who need transportation to the airport can take shuttle buses, which are currently leaving from the Sheraton on Canal Street, and should continue to do so until at least noon on Sunday. According to the New Orleans Visitors and Convention Bureau site, you must have a reservation for a departing flight in order to gain access to the shuttles. Several airlines have expanded service in order to get visitors out quickly. Check with your airline for further information. In addition, all events related to Southern Decadence have been canceled.
South Florida and the Keys: Although not getting the attention or the hurricane force winds that are expected to buffet Louisiana, the Keys have indeed been affected by outer bands of the storm. Residents and visitors of the lower Keys and Key West were asked to stay indoors Sunday morning, although conditions were expected to improve later today. Highway 1, the overseas highway, has remained open. Visitors to south Florida, including the Miami area, should be aware that the risk of rip currents is high and tornado warnings may be issued for some areas.
Cayman Islands: Gustav having passed, the airport on Grand Cayman has reopened, although travelers on Cayman Airways -- which has a few cancellations -- and other carriers should check with their airlines for schedule changes and updates. Early reports are that while the country suffered a beating, there were no serious injuries or deaths (although some of the smaller islands have yet to be heard from).
The Bahamas and Turks/Caicos: Visitors who plan to travel to these popular destinations should be aware that the U.S. State Dept has issued a travel alert in advance of the approach of Tropical Storm Hanna.
"The storm is predicted to pass close to and possibly over The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands on September 2, 2008, and may increase to a category 1 Hurricane," reads the alert, which also warns travelers to be aware of cruise ship and hotel evacuation policies.
Please note that Hanna's future path is far more uncertain that Gustav's at this point, so travelers to anywhere in the region, from Florida to the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas, are strongly advised to monitor advisories posted by the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane Gustav update, Saturday at 8:00 a.m. EST:
As the storm churns into the Gulf of Mexico, here is the latest information about some destinations of interest to travelers.
Cayman Islands: As of 6 a.m., residents were asked to stay indoors, power lines reportedly were down and some roads had been blocked with debris. Flooding was reported in several areas of Grand Cayman and sea water had reportedly blown in from the North Sound.
Also, a message on the Cayman Islands official tourism site reported that there was an "immediate restriction on all visitors wishing to enter the Cayman Islands. This restriction will remain in effect until further notice." Information on the islands' resort properties participating in hurricane guarantee offers was also available.
As for Jamaica, flightsin and out of the island nation resumed on Friday and were expected to return to normal sometime during the day on Saturday.
Now, about New Orleans. Louisiana has instituted a state of emergency in preparation for the possible storm. Officials at the National Hurricane Center believe that Gustav will become a category 4 storm before making landfall sometime around midnight on Monday or early Tuesday morning. As of now it is expected to make landfall around the Morgan City area, west of New Orleans, but tropical storm winds would be felt throughout most of the city if the storm kept to its present path.
Weather in the New Orleans area should be warm and sunny on Saturday and Sunday but is expected to worsen dramatically throughout the day on Monday. A message on the New Orleans visitors and convention bureau site says, "Hotels and restaurants are open this weekend and most festivities for Southern Decadence are continuing, but this is obviously subject to change pending the storm track." Those planning to visit New Orleans in the next few days should check with their airlines and hotels, reconfirm reservations and monitor the CVB Web site for updates. Remember also that a mandatory evacuation order could go into effect this weekend, at which time some major hotels are expected to close.
With each passing day, it appears more and more likely that the Gulf Coast is going to be hit by another hurricane, perhaps a Category 3 or greater. Gustav has been reduced to tropical storm status, a consequence of the storm having recently made landfall in the Caribbean. The latest computer models show a projected path for Gustav that will ultimately lead to landfall in Louisiana, although residents of areas from the Texas Gulf Coast to the Florida Panhandle are not out of the woods.
How will this affect you? For one thing, the brief respite in rising gas prices that we've been experiencing may be ending. "One industry analyst is predicting gas prices could rise as much as ten cents a gallon by this weekend, as a result of Gustav," reads a statement issued yesterday by AAA. That would be Labor Day weekend, traditionally one of the biggest weekends for car travel of the year.
And what if you're heading to the Gulf Coast? If your trip is planned for next Monday or later, you'll want to closely monitor the bulletins that are issued by the National Hurricane Center every few hours. We'll also try to post information here as it becomes available. Gustav is in the unpredictable stage, and until the storm actually reaches the Gulf of Mexico, it's impossible to predict its eventual path. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Mark Schleifstein reported earlier today: "This morning, the National Hurricane Center took the unusual step of issuing a special discussion message to update the one they'd issued only three hours earlier. Gustav had changed his mind again."
As of the most recent update, it appears that Gustav is heading for landfall on the Louisiana coast around Morgan City, which is west of New Orleans (rather than heading for the city directly, as had earlier been predicted). But New Orleans residents, who will mark the third anniversary of Katrina's landfall tomorrow, are by no means in the clear.
As for Jamaica, it will likely begin experiencing Gustav's winds this afternoon and travelers to that island nation are urged to monitor the country's national tourism site, which also contains links to the Jamaican Meteorologist Service.
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