Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Eastern Seaboard on Alert as 3 Storms Line Up; Florida, Carolinas Possible Targets

As Hurricane Season Reaches its Peak, There Could be Plenty More After Hanna, Ike and Josephine; Ike Now a Category 1 Hurricane; All Three Storms Could Strike the Atlantic Seaboard Within a Week

Parade of storms: As the remnants of Hurricane Gustav (left) continue to dump torrential rains on northern Louisiana, eastern Texas and Arkansas, Tropical Storm Hanna (center) roars through Haiti and the Dominican Republic while Hurricane Ike (right) churns in the open Atlantic. The latter two cyclones -- along with Tropical Storm Josephine (not pictured), which formed late Tuesday in the eastern Atlantic -- and all three could roar up the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard in the next week. (Photo: NASA via The Miami Herald)

(Posted 5:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, September 3, 2005)
(Updated 6:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, September 3, 2008)

By Skeeter Sanders

As northern Louisiana, Arkansas and eastern Texas continued to get drenched by heavy rains from the remnants of Gustav, the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to the Carolinas is bracing for a possible 1-2-3 assault by Hanna, Ike and Josephine in the next few days.

Tropical Storm Ike intensified Wednesday into the fifth hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic season, but Hanna, which remained a tropical storm meandering through the Caribbean, was a more immediate concern.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Ike's top winds were clocked at 80 mph, but the storm was still far out in the Atlantic Ocean and not forecast to threaten Caribbean islands until at least Saturday afternoon.

Where Ike will go from there remains uncertain. It could move up the east coast -- as Hanna is projected to do this weekend -- or it could continue on a westbound track through the Caribbean and move into the Gulf of Mexico, essentially following the same path as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Hanna, meanwhile, was drenching the Bahamas and Haiti with torrential rains. The storm killed 16 people in Haiti, government official Abel Nazaire said Wednesday. More rainfall, up to 15 inches in some places, was possible in the Caribbean.

Hanna was forecast to return to hurricane strength by Friday as it moves up the east coast of the southern U.S., with landfall predicted on the coast of the Carolinas either late Friday or early Saturday.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Josephine, with top winds near 60 mph, was about 305 miles west-southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands off western Africa. Josephine showed signs of development and was expected to reach hurricane strength Wednesday as it tracks over warm, open water past the Cape Verde Islands.

Josephine's track also remains uncertain for now; it could veer to the northwest and threaten the Carolinas. Or it could continue on a westerly course toward Florida.

Above-Average Hurricane Season Nearing Its September Peak

The June 1-to-November 30 Atlantic hurricane season is just over half-way finished, with the first half of September traditionally the most active period of the season. An average hurricane season has 11 named storms, with three major hurricanes of Category 3 (110-129 mph) or stronger.

The National Hurricane Center's 2008 forecast called for a more active than average season, with 14 to 18 named storms -- including as many as five major hurricanes. To date, there have been 10 named storms this season, but there were no major hurricanes -- until Gustav.

''We are well on our way to having an active season,'' said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the NHC. "All the ingredients are there for the storms to surface.''

On Tuesday, a combination of wind shear from a high-pressure system further north and Hannas' eye passing over land as it moved through Haiti caused the hurricane to weaken to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. But forecasters at the hurricane center said Hanna could regain hurricane strength later today (Wednesday) as it moves in a northwesterly direction through the Bahamas toward the U.S. East Coast.

Hanna could make landfall by late Friday in South Carolina, but a slight deviation in its track could send it plowing into Florida. "It is too early to tell,'' said Feltgen.

But Florida Governor Charlie Crist isn't taking any chances. He declared a state of emergency Tuesday in preparation for Hanna and warned coastal residents to be prepared to evacuate if it grows to be as strong as forecast and takes direct aim at the Sunshine State.

Haiti, Still Reeling from Gustav, Hammered by Hanna -- With Ike On the Way

In Haiti, where Gustav killed 79 people and destroyed at least 10,000 homes last week, Hanna flooded many low-lying northern areas and reportedly caused 10 more deaths.

Gonaives, Haiti's second-largest city, "practically doesn't exist,'' said Eberle Nicolas, a Haitian agronomist. The submerged town is located about 75 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Floodwaters overtopped riverbanks in Gonaives and the northern coast town of Port-de-Paix, sending people fleeing to rooftops to escape the rising water.

Prime Minister Michéle Pierre-Louis tried to tour Gonaives but was turned away by the high water, and the storm prevented rescue helicopters from searching for victims.

''The situation is grave,'' Salvador Guillet, the mayor of Port-de-Paix, told The Miami Herald. "This is perhaps the most difficult moment we've experienced in our history.''

And there's more to come: Forecasters warn that Ike is likely to follow the same path as Gustav and Hanna as a Category 2 hurricane and could deliver a deadly third strike to the island nation on Saturday.

''It would not be good for us,'' Guillet said.

Gulf Coast Evacuees Begin to Return Home after Gustav

Meanwhile, as Gustav disintegrated Tuesday into a slow-moving cluster of heavy rainstorms in Arkansas and eastern Texas, residents who evacuated coastal areas in Louisiana and Mississippi began the long journey back home.

New Orleans residents can begin returning to their homes on Thursday, Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday night, but he urged them to be aware of the hardships they will face. "The picture's not as good as we thought it would be," Nagin said almost 36 hours after Hurricane Gustav roared into the state with 110 mph winds.

The loss of electrical power was New Orleans and Louisiana's biggest problem. More than half the state's residents -- 1.4 million households -- were lacking electricity Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. Some may not get it back for weeks.

Up to two million people were evacuated from the Gulf Coast over the weekend -- including all but 10,000 residents of New Orleans -- as Gustav roared toward landfall amid fears that it would slam into the Crescent City as a devastating, Katrina-sized Category 5 hurricane with more than 155 mile-per-hour winds.

Gustav had been a Category 4, with winds of 150 mph, when it passed over Cuba and into the warm waters of the gulf on Sunday. But it weakened to a Category 2 (110 mph) and veered slightly to the west, avoiding a direct hit on New Orleans and making landfall about 75 miles to the southwest of the Crescent City.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said evacuating was the right call.

"I got questions asking, 'Wasn't this a false alarm?' '' Chertoff told The Miami Herald. "Nothing could be farther from the truth.

''And the reason I mention this,'' Chertoff continued, "is we have another storm bearing down on the United States, which is Hanna.''

# # #

Volume III, Number 52
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

'The Big Easy' Breathes Easier As it Avoids a Direct Hit By Gustav

Hurricane Now a Tropical Storm, But Still Drenches Louisiana With Heavy Rains; Surge Splashes Over Industrial Canal Levees, But Reinforced Walls Hold; East Coast Keeps Wary Eye on Hanna, Despite Weakening to Tropical Storm

Water sloshes over the side of a levee on Industrial Canal in ...

Swollen water sloshes over the side of a levee Monday on the Industrial Canal in New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav slammed into the Gulf Coast, driving a surge of water to the lip of the levees protecting the below-sea-level Crescent City. But after several tense hours, the levees held fast, to the great relief of New Orleans city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers, which reinforced the levees after a catastrophic failure during Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city. (Photo: Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse)

(Posted 5:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, September 2, 2008)
(Updated 6:00 p.m. EDT Tuesday, September 2, 2008)

By Howard Witt
Chicago Tribune

NEW ORLEANS — In the end, it was just a glancing blow. And for that, the Big Easy let out a big sigh of relief.

A weakened Hurricane Gustav blew into southern Louisiana on Monday morning as a less-fearsome Category 2 storm, bearing 110-mile-per-hour winds that cracked tree branches, knocked out power to a million homes and triggered localized flooding, but apparently spared the vulnerable New Orleans levee system.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Hanna, the first of three tropical storms lined up across the Atlantic, was expected to strengthen back into a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday night -- roughly 24 hours after weakening -- and is expected to make landfall somewhere on the East Coast between Florida and North Carolina before Friday evening, forecasters said.

Hanna could come ashore as a Category 1 storm, with winds of 80 to 85 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Florida Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency Tuesday to get the state ready for Hanna, the Associated Press reported. Floridians could expect flash floods and wind gusts of up to 111 mph, he said.

Following Hanna is Tropical Storm Ike, which formed Monday, and is forecast to cross into the Caribbean as a hurricane on Saturday or Sunday. Tropical Storm Josephine formed Tuesday near the West African coast and is heading west, but is not forecast at this time to make landfall.

Gustav Slams Into Major Oil and Gas Port

Gustav made landfall just before 10 a.m. EDT Monday near the coastal community of Cocodrie, Louisiana, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans in the heart of the state's fishing and oil industry. Forecasters had feared that the hurricane could strike the coast as a catastrophic Category 4 storm—a warning that spurred a massive inland evacuation of up to 95 percent of coastal residents over the weekend.

As Gustav weakened to a tropical storm late Monday, dumping heavy rains over central Louisiana on its way into Texas, officials cautioned that storm surges still could buffet the New Orleans region into Tuesday, putting stress on fragile flood defenses that still have not been fully repaired since their destruction during Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

But with every passing hour, as the winds subsided and the clouds thinned, New Orleans seemed to be mostly dry.

After Gustav, there was no deluge.

Nevertheless, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who orchestrated a successful effort to evacuate nearly all of his city's 310,000 residents ahead of Gustav, warned citizens not to attempt to return home Tuesday because of remaining power outages, sewer problems and debris littering most streets.

"There's damage throughout the city," Nagin said at a news conference Monday night. "The city is not quite ready for our citizens to return."

About half the city was without power as dusk fell, but a driving tour of several neighborhoods indicated that few homes had suffered any significant wind damage.

Police said they had arrested just two looters through Monday evening, in stark contrast to the lawlessness that pervaded the city after Katrina.

Few Deaths Reported, Thanks to Mass Evacuations

Casualties from Gustav appeared to be few: Authorities reported seven traffic deaths related to the storm, including four people killed in Georgia when their car struck a tree, and two other evacuees who died in Baton Rouge when a tree struck the house where they were staying.

There was less information about the fate of smaller coastal communities in the Cajun country southwest of New Orleans, where Gustav came ashore.

In those low-lying regions, where natural wetland barriers have been eroded by oil and gas drilling, officials warned that damage was likely much greater.

"We don't expect the loss of life, certainly, that we saw in Katrina," Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Harvey Johnson told The Associated Press. "But we are expecting a lot of homes to be damaged, a lot of infrastructure to be flooded, and damaged severely."

Communications Down at Port Fourchon

State officials said they had not been able to reach anyone at Port Fourchon, a vital hub for the energy industry where huge amounts of oil and gas are piped inland to refineries. Gustav's eye passed about 20 miles from the port.

The Gulf Coast is home to nearly half of the nation's oil-refining capacity, and if either the onshore or offshore energy infrastructure suffered major damage from Gustav, gasoline prices could shoot up.

Risk Management Solutions, a major insurance-risk firm based in London, estimated that Gustav might have caused $1 billion to $3 billion in damage to oil platforms and wells, while insured losses for damage to residential and commercial properties might range as high as $7 billion.

"Offshore damage was not as extensive as originally anticipated," Christine Ziehmann, a company official, said in a statement.

International oil markets seemed to have shrugged off the storm. Oil prices fell $4 to around $111 a barrel as the storm weakened.

A Few Tense Hours, But Industrial Canal Levee Holds

In New Orleans, the closest call came at midday, when wind-driven water started spilling over a flood wall along on the west side of the Industrial Canal bordering New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Televised pictures of the swollen canal overflowing its banks summoned ghastly memories of Katrina, when multiple levee failures flooded 80 percent of the city, leading to the deaths of more than 1,800 people and the loss of at least 100,000 homes.

The flood wall on the eastern side of the Industrial Canal failed during Katrina, causing a devastating flood that destroyed the historic, largely African-American neighborhood as well as adjacent St. Bernard Parish.

But officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said there had been no breaches, either in that flood wall or anywhere else along the complex, 350-mile levee network protecting the New Orleans metropolitan area, and they said they were confident that the system would continue to hold—even though work to fully repair Katrina's damage will not be completed until 2011.

"We're confident in the stability of that [Industrial Canal] wall," which was fortified after Katrina, said Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the $15 billion Army Corps rebuilding project.

Gustav blew in packing much less of a punch than Katrina, which arrived as a Category 3 storm with a monstrous 27-foot storm surge. Gustav's surge was predicted to top out at 14 feet.

Bush Hails 'Much Better' Response to Gustav

President Bush, who skipped the Republican National Convention in Minnesota to monitor Gustav from Texas, applauded local, state and federal efforts to cope with the storm. The president was widely faulted for the federal government's slow response to Katrina.

"The coordination on this storm is a lot better ... than during Katrina," Bush said, noting how the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had been working in concert. "It was clearly a spirit of sharing assets, of listening to somebody's problems and saying, 'How can we best address them?' "

The nearly two million people who left coastal Louisiana under mandatory evacuation orders issued by every southern parish watched TV coverage of the hurricane from shelters and hotel rooms scattered hundreds of miles away.

Many were enduring an anxious wait to learn the fate of their homes.

Cong Doan, 34, of Chauvin, a vulnerable coastal fishing town near where Gustav made landfall, sat playing cards with his wife and several of his six children on cots at a shelter in Alexandria, Louisiana.

"I just keep telling myself, whatever happens, happens. There's not much to do," he said. "We're going to go back. But whether we have anything to go back to, I don't know."

Hanna, Ike Expected to Strengthen

At 2 p.m. EDT, Hanna was just below hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 70 mph, and brushing the southeast coast of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to strengthen and move to toward the northwest late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Hanna's line of fire could include the Atlantic coast from Florida to Massachusetts, according to the hurricane center's long-range forecast map. Charleston, South Carolina, appears in the middle of this "cone of uncertainty," with Hanna potentially making landfall there Friday.

Ike is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane Tuesday night and could strike the Turks and Caicos islands just south of the Bahamas -- already hit by Hanna on Monday -- by this weekend.

The history of hurricanes that have been where Hanna is now might argue against it heading toward the southeastern United States. None of the September storms that passed within 200 miles of the current location have gone there, with most heading into the Gulf of Mexico and others going to New England or Nova Scotia.

Still, forecasters said, "the model guidance is remarkably well clustered" in support of its forecasted path for Hanna.

(Tribune reporter Angela Rozas in Alexandria, Louisiana, and CNN contributed to this report.)

# # #

Volume III, Number 51
Special Report Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. all rights reserved.


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Monday, September 01, 2008

Already Overshadowed by Gustav, GOP Convention Must Also Confront Hanna

Gustav Makes Landfall on Louisiana Coast, Storm Surge Tops New Orleans Levees; Hanna Becomes Hurricane, May Threaten East Coast by Wednesday; Convention's Opening-Night Schedule is Scrapped; McCain's VP Pick Palin Drops Bombshell That Her Unmarried Teen-Aged Daughter is Pregnant

A general view of the Xcel Energy Center during preparations ...

Workers put the finishing touches Sunday on preparations for the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. With Hurricane Gustav slamming into the Gulf Coast Monday morning, Republican White House hopeful John McCain on Sunday ordered the scrapping of all but the most essential business on the convention's opening-night schedule on Monday night -- and did not rule out the possibility that he might postpone or even cancel his Thursday-night acceptance speech. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Hannah intensified into a hurricane Monday afternoon and may pose a threat to the East Coast as early as Wednesday. (Photo: Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, September 1, 2008)
(Updated 4:15 p.m. EDT Monday, September 1, 2008)


HURRICANE COVERAGE: Daily updates on Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna will continue as events warrant. Beginning next week, The 'Skeeter Bites Report will expand its regular publication schedule from once a week to twice-weekly, with new articles posted every Monday and Thursday. The expansion is being made in response to numerous reader requests for more coverage of the presidential campaign, as well as for other, non-political news.


By Skeeter Sanders

Already forced to tone down the party because of Hurricane Gustav's rampage through the Gulf Coast, organizers of the Republican National Convention must now contend with a possible threat to the East Coast by Hurricane Hanna before the week is out.

As Gustav, a powerful Category 2 hurricane, slammed into the Gulf Coast Monday morning -- just three days after the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating rampage through the region -- GOP officials, under direct orders from presumptive presidential nominee John McCain, canceled nearly all of the convention's opening-night schedule.

Tropical Storm Hanna, churning in the Atlantic, intensified into a Category 1 hurricane Monday afternoon, bringing fierce 75-mile-per-hour winds and battering waves to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Forecasters warned it could hit the Eastern Seaboard -- possibly the Carolinas -- by Wednesday or Thursday.

"Right now, the uncertainty is such that it could hit anywhere from Miami to the outer banks of North Carolina," said Jessica Schauer Clark, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "So people really need to keep an eye on it."

Only Essential Business Will Be Conducted at Convention Tonight

Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House GOP leader and chairman of the convention, said mandatory business -- approval of the convention rules and the Republican Party's platform -- will go on as planned, but everything else on Monday night's intinerary had been scrapped.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and all five Gulf Coast GOP governors -- Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindahl of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Robert Riley of Alabama and Charlie Crist of Florida -- canceled plans to attend the convention to deal with the oncoming crisis.

First Lady Laura Bush and first lady hopeful Cindy McCain will address the convention to encourage people to donate to the relief efforts in the Gulf region, a senior McCain campaign official told reporters in a conference call.

"This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans," McCain told reporters early Sunday evening after his arrival in Minneapolis. The Arizona senator's campaign manager, Rick Davis, added that the opening program would be "business only and will refrain from political rhetoric."

McCain did not rule out the possibility that he might postpone or even cancel his acceptance speech, which is scheduled for Thursday night, if Gustav proves to be as devastating to the Gulf Coast region as Katrina was.

Storm Surge Splashing Over Industrial Canal Levees; Three Ships Break Loose from Canal Docks

In New Orleans, live TV pictures showed waters whipped by Gustav's winds splashing over the tops of reconstructed levees along New Orleans' Industrial Canal Monday, but that by 2:00 p.m. EDT, the levees were holding. The levees were rebuilt after a massive breach from Hurricane Katrina that flooded and destroyed the city's Lower Ninth Ward.

A much greater threat to the levees emerged when three vessels - a tugboat, a decommissioned Navy ship and a barge -- broke free from their moorings and were reported drifting in the violent waters -- prompting fears that the vessels could crash into the canal's levees and cause a "catastrophic" failure.

In dramatic footage broadcast on Fox News, the Army Corps of Engineers sent a recovery team into the raging waters to retrieve a propane gas tank that had broken loose from the Corps' tugboat and was threatening to crash into the levee.

Grand Isle, in the middle of Gustav's path, was covered in water, and power outages blacked out parts of downtown New Orleans, including the French Quarter and Children's Hospital.

There were concerns that if Gustav moves up the Mississippi's estuaries, parts of New Oleans' levee system may not hold, resulting in severe flooding. Although many levees have been repaired and heightened since Katrina, construction and repair work won't be completed until 2011, officials say.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Gustav had already caused a nearly nine-foot storm surge in Pointe a La Hache, Louisiana, about 40 miles southeast of New Orleans. Another one to three feet of surge could occur, the USGS said.

Convention to Take On More Somber Tone, McCain Says

McCain, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, and his newly-selected vice-presidential running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, were in Jackson, Mississippi at midday Sunday at the invitation of Barbour to survey preparations for Gustav.

In an interview taped in Washington on Saturday for broadcast on "Fox News Sunday," McCain said that the tone of the convention will be more serious then originally planned. "We don't want to appear in any way festive when you have that kind of tragedy, possibly, revisiting itself on the city of New Orleans and areas around it," he said. "So we'll be judging it day by day and looking at the options."

Among those options included transforming the convention into a telethon-like fundraiser for hurricane relief efforts. Given McCain's scathing criticism of the Bush administration's response to Katrina -- and Bush's dismal 21 percent job-approval rating, the worst of any president in modern American history -- Bush's absence from the convention may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the party.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama made a pointed reference to Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver Thursday night, when he referred to Americans as being "more compassionate than a government. . . that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes. . . Tonight,I say to the people of America -- to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land -- Enough!"

Gustav Poses Logistical, TV Nightmare for Convention Planners

Convention planners acknowledged that Gustav was posing both a logistical and television-coverage nightmare. With as many as 45,000 people gathered in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to attend the four-day confab, there's no way the party can postpone the convention entirely, but GOP officials remain deeply fearful of split-screen TV images of delegates whooping it up on one side and of destruction wrought by Gustav on the other.

For Republicans, Gustav is one more obstacle thrown into their path toward a November election victory, a path already littered with a deeply unpopular war in Iraq and unease over Bush's overall foreign policy; controversies over alleged abuses of power by the Bush White House; an economy on the brink of -- if not already in -- a recession; several high-profile Republicans, most notably Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, embroiled in scandals; and a lame-duck president with the worst job-approval ratings on record.

Both McCain and Palin could also find themselves robbed of valuable television time when they deliver their acceptance speeches if Gustav proves to be as destructive as Katrina and the TV networks concentrate their coverage on the hurricane instead of on the convention.

TV Networks Already Shift Focus Away From Convention Toward Gustav

Already, the networks shifted focus and personnel away from the Twin Cities to New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities lying in Gustav's path, leaving convention officials and network news chiefs alike wondering how much of their months-long plans for the convention will be ruined.

Anchors Katie Couric of CBS, Charles Gibson of ABC, Brian Williams of NBC, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Shepard Smith of Fox were all going to the New Orleans area for the storm instead of St. Paul for the convention.

Whether any of them will be heading north will depend on the strength and impact of the storm at Monday's expected landfall. "We're going to go with the biggest story of the day tomorrow," said Jay Wallace, a news vice president at Fox, "and right now the biggest story of the day is the storm."

Along with Smith, Fox was sending Geraldo Rivera and at least a dozen crews to the Gulf. Fox had been anticipating a big week in St. Paul: its ratings topped every broadcast and cable network at the 2004 GOP convention in New York.

But the conservative-leaning news channel also scored big ratings for its coverage of Katrina -- which was punctuated by gut-wrenching on-the-scene reports by Smith and Rivera of the chaos that ensued in New Orleans after Katrina struck.

For his part, Wolf Blitzer was anchoring CNN's covereage on Sunday from the nearly empty convention floor, yet he was talking almost exclusively about Gustav and its potential impact.

Unanswered Questions About McCain's VP Pick Also Vex Republicans

Aside from being overshadowed by Gustav, Republicans also face many unanswered questions being asked by the public about McCain's running mate. Although highly popular at home in Alaska, with an 80 percent job-approval rating as governor, Palin is largely unknown nationally -- and already, Republicans have been put on the defensive about McCain's pick.

At 44 years of age, Palin is not only younger than the 47-year-old Obama, but has less governmental experience than the Illinois senator, including, most Republicans acknowledge, no foreign-policy experience at all -- a fact that has effectively neutralized the McCain campaign's chief weapon against the Democratic nominee.

And despite Palin's open appeal to disappointed supporters, mostly women, of defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, Palin's selection was made more to appease the GOP's hard-line social conservatives, with her steadfast opposition to abortion rights -- a position unlikely to draw support from Clinton's most loyal constituency.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Friday found that 33 percent of respondents didi not believe that Palin was ready to serve as president in the event that McCain -- who introduced his running mate on his 72nd birthday -- was unable to complete his term, either through death or incapacitation.

Not since Dan Quayle's selection as George H.W. Bush's running mate in 1988 has a vice presidential candidate scored that low in public-opinion surveys -- although Republicans were quick to point out that Quayle's unpopularity proved not to be an impediment to the elder Bush's victory in the 1988 election over Democrat Michael Dukakis.

A Shocker: Palin Reveals Her Teen-Aged Daughter is Pregnant

In a stunning announcement, Palin disclosed Monday afternoon that her teen-aged daughter is expecting a baby. Seventeen-year-old Bristol Palin has been pregnant for five months.

The GOP vice-presidential nomiinee-designate vowed, however, that her daughter will keep the baby and marry the father.

"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us," Palin said in a statement. "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned.

"We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents," Palin continued. "As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."

According to Reuters, McCain campaign officials knew about Bristol's pregnancy during the vetting process.

The fact that Bristol became pregnant out of wedlock might not sit well with social conservatives, who fiercely disapprove of sex outside of marriage. On the other hand, Bristol's commitment to keep the baby and to marry the father of the child could put pro-life social conservatives in more of a forgiving mood.

Palin Pick Under Fire in Alaska

McCain's selection of the Alaska governor already has come under fire in her home state from an unlikely direction: A supporter of Palin's 2006 run for governor and a former staff member in her administration questioned Palin's qualifications to be vice president.

"She's not qualified, she doesn't have the judgment, to be next in line to the president of the United States," Larry Persily, a former congressional liaison at the governor's Washington office, said in an interview Saturday with the Bloomberg News Service.

Persily resigned in June out of frustration because the state was "fighting the same old wars" in its nearly 30-year effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling -- which Palin strongly supports, but McCain fiercely opposes.

Jim Whitaker, the Republican mayor of Fairbanks who also supported Palin's gubernatorial run, told the business news wire that while he is "still an avid supporter" of Palin as governor, he, too had doubts about her fitness to step up to the presidency in case McCain in unable to complete his term.

Whitaker also said that despite McCain's selection of Palin, he would continue to support Obama in the fall campaign.

GOP's Hopes to Stop Obama 'Bounce' Fail

Republicans had hoped that Palin's selection on Friday -- a day after Obama's acceptance speech -- and the rare short interval between the two party conventions would help blunt any momentum that Obama gained. But Gallup's daily tracking poll showed Obama making a substantial surge even before he delivered his acceptance speech, powered in part by the massive show of unity between the Obama and Clinton camps.

The poll found Obana, the first-ever African-American presidential nominee of a major political party, surging from a two-point lead over McCain before the Democratic Convention to a solid eight-point advantage at the convention's end.

Moreover, Obama's history-making acceptance speech -- which coincided with the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" address at the 1963 Freedom March on Washington -- was watched by 38 million people, according to the A.C. Nielsen TV ratings service, a substantial increase from the 31 million viewers who watched John Kerry's acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston.

If McCain's acceptance speech, scheduled for Thursday night, is pre-empted by Gustav coverage, it could be disastrous for the GOP nominee.

(The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.)

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Volume III, Number 50
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Sunday, August 31, 2008

One Million Flee Gulf Coast as 'Mother of All Storms' Gustav Takes Dead Aim at Louisiana

Gustav Remains a Category 3 Hurricane and Forecasters No Longer Predict Strengthening as Evacuations Near Completion; Storm Remains on Track to Hit New Orleans by Monday; Bush, Cheney Cancel Appearance at GOP Convention; Jerry Lewis Telethon May Also Be Affected

Vehicles carrying Hurricane Gustav evacuees travel along the ...

A steady stream of vehicles roll along Interstate 10 out of New Orleans Saturday as part of a massive evacuation of the city and surrounding areas ahead of Hurricane Gustav. As of 6 p.m. EDT Sunday, Gustav remained a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity after weakening from a Category 4 early Sunday morning, packing sustained winds of 115 miles per hour. But forecasters warned that while Gustav is now unlikely to re-intensify to a Category 4 in the warm waters of the gulf, it would remain a dangerous tornado-spawning hurricane when it makes landfall on Monday. (Photo: Bill Auth/Reuters)

(Updated 6:00 p.m. EDT Sunday, August 31, 2008)

By Becky Bohrer
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- With Hurricane Gustav less than 24 hours away from a possible monster hit on New Orleans, the mayor Sunday pleaded with the last of its residents to get out, imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on those who stay and warned looters they will be sent directly to prison.

The Big Easy increasingly took on the eeriness of a ghost town as thousands heeded a mandatory evacuation order, and police and National Guard troops clamped down on the city to prevent the kind of lawlessness and chaos that followed Katrina three years ago.

"Looters will go directly to jail. You will not get a pass this time," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You will go directly to the Big House."

Most were taking him seriously. The state changed traffic flow so all highway lanes led out of New Orleans, and cars were packed bumper-to-bumper. Stores and restaurants shut down, hotels closed and windows were boarded up. Some who planned to stay changed their mind at the last second, not willing to risk the worst.

As it roared through the Gulf of Mexico taking direct aim at New Orleans, Gustav remained a Category 3 storm late Sunday afternoon after weakening from a Category 4 overnight Saturday, packing sustained winds of 115 miles per hour as of 6 p.m. EDT. Forecasters abandoned their earlier warnings that it could regain Category 4 strength from the gulf's warm waters, but warned that it would remain a dangerous hurricane capable of spawning tornadoes before making landfall as early as Monday.

Long before Mayor Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation order took effect Sunday morning for the city's vulnerable West Bank, residents were already streaming out of New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported in nearly every direction out of New Orleans, and on Bourbon Street, where the party seemingly never ends, only stragglers toting luggage were sporadically seen on the sidewalks.

Spooked by predictions that Gustav could grow into a Category 5 monster, an estimated one million people fled the Gulf Coast Saturday to get out of the way of a storm taking dead aim at Louisiana.

Nagin gave the mandatory order late Saturday, but all day residents took to buses, trains, planes and cars — clogging roadways leading away from New Orleans, still reeling three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed about 1,600 across the region.

Nagin did not immediately order a curfew, which would allow officials to arrest residents if they are not on their property.

Gustav Death Toll Passes 80 in Caribbean

Gustav crossed western Cuba on Saturday and has already killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean. It picked up forward speed upon reaching the gulf and was moving northwest at 18 mph even as its maximum sustained winds weakened to 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. EDT update. Hurricane-force winds extended 50 miles from the storm's center.

Its center was about 215 miles southeast of the Mississippi River's mouth. The storm could bring a storm surge of up to 14 feet to the coast and rainfall totals of up to 20 inches.

A hurricane warning for over 500 miles of Gulf coast from Cameron, Louisiana, near the Texas border to the Alabama-Florida state line, meaning hurricane conditions are expected there within 24 hours. Alabama Governor Bob Riley issued a mandatory evacuation order Sunday for some coastal areas of Mobile and Baldwin counties.

In New Orleans, Nagin used stark language to urge residents to get out of the city, calling Gustav the "the mother of all storms."

"This is the real deal, not a test," Nagin said as he issued the evacuation order Saturday night. "For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life."

Forecasters were slightly less dire in their predictions, saying the storm should make landfall somewhere between western Mississippi and East Texas, where evacuations were also under way. It's too early to know whether New Orleans will take another direct hit, they said, but city officials weren't taking any chances.

Strengthing of New Orleans Levees Unfinished

Levee building on the city's west bank was incomplete, Nagin said. A storm surge of 15 to 20 feet would pour through canals and flood the neighborhood and neighboring Jefferson Parish, he said.

Nagin estimated that about half the population had left by Saturday night and admitted officials were worried that some die-hards would try to stay in town. Even before the evacuation order, hotels closed, and the airport prepared to follow suit.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff planned to travel to Louisiana on Sunday to observe preparations. Also, likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, are traveling to Mississippi on Sunday to check on people getting prepared.

Long Lines at Terminal for Buses to Get Out of the City. . .

As part of the evacuation plan New Orleans developed after Katrina, residents who had no other way to get out of the city waited on lines that snaked for more than a mile through the parking lot of the city's main transit terminal. From there, they were boarding buses bound for shelters in north Louisiana. The city expects to move out about 30,000 such residents by Sunday.

"I don't like it," said Joseph Jones Jr., 61, who draped a towel over his head to block the blazing sun. "Going someplace you don't know, people you don't know. And then when you come back, is your house going to be OK?"

Others led children or pushed strollers with one hand and pulled luggage with the other. Volunteers handed out bottled water, and medics were nearby in case people became sick from the heat.

Unlike Katrina, when thousands took refuge inside the Superdome, there will be no "last resort" shelter. "You will be on your own," Nagin said.

About 1,500 National Guard troops were in the region, and soldiers were expected to help augment about 1,400 New Orleans police officers in helping patrol and secure the city.

. . .But Some Stubbornly Refuse to Leave

Still, there were a few holdouts.

"You'd be a moron" not to be worried about the storm, Inez Douglas said at Johnny White's Sports Bar & Grill. But while she was keeping an eye on the storm, she wasn't going anywhere.

Standing outside his restaurant in the city's Faubourg Marigny district, Dale DeBruyne prepared for Gustav the way he did for Katrina — stubbornly.

"I'm not leaving," he said.

DeBruyne, 52, said his house was stocked with storm supplies, including generators.
"I stayed for Katrina," he said, "and I'll stay again."

Many residents said the early stage of the evacuation was more orderly than Katrina, although a plan to electronically log and track evacuees with a bar code system failed and was aborted to keep the buses moving. Officials said information on evacuees would be taken when they reached their destinations.

Advocates criticized the decision not to establish a shelter, warning that day laborers and the poorest residents would fall through the cracks.

About two dozen Hispanic men gathered under oak trees near Claiborne Avenue. They were wary of boarding any bus, even though a city spokesman said no identity papers would be required.

"The problem is," said Pictor Soto, 44, of Peru, "there will be immigration people there and we're all undocumented."

Farther west, where Gustav appeared more likely to make landfall, National Guard troops were also being sent to Lake Charles.

Evacuations Ordered for Other Coastal Regions

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and part of Texas, meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.

Two East Texas counties also issued mandatory evacuation orders, and authorities in Mississippi began evacuating the mentally ill and aged from facilities along the coast.

National Guard soldiers on Mississippi's coast were going door-to-door to alert thousands of families still living in FEMA trailers and cottages after Katrina that they should be prepared to evacuate Sunday.

In Alabama, shelters were opened and 3,000 National Guard personnel assembled to help evacuees from Mississippi and Louisiana. "If we don't get the wind and rain, we stand ready to help them," Gov. Bob Riley said.

Obama Says Storm Preparations Good; McCain to Go to Mississippi

In Dublin, Ohio, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama took time out from campaigning Saturday for briefings by telephone with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and FEMA officials about Gustav. Obama told reporters that cooperation between the local and federal government “appears to be good” but he will continue to monitor it.

“The main message,” Obama said, “is for the public in those areas that are potentially in danger to take the evacuation seriously, even if you have ridden out this storm before, even if you think that it may pass over, even if you think you can wait until the last minute, this is going to be potentially very, very serious.”

“This could be gigantic in terms of in its consequences,” said Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, who stood at his side. “Ride out of town, get out of town. Do what the governor is suggesting.”

For his part, Republican presidential candidate John McCain voiced concern for Gulf Coast residents fleeing from Gustav and made plans to visit Mississippi even as he reintroduced running mate Sarah Palin to a raucous crowd at a campiang rally in Pennsylvania.

"I would like, obviously, to keep in our thoughts and prayers the people on the Gulf Coast, especially in New Orleans, that are threatened by this terrible natural disaster of a hurricane," said McCain, who has been highly critical of the Bush administration's response to Katrina three years ago.

Aides said McCain and his wife Cindy planned to join Palin in traveling to Jackson, Mississippi Sunday at the invitation of Governor Haley Barbour because of concerns about people threatened by the storm.

Bush, Cheney Cancel Appearance at GOP Convention; First-Night Schedule Scrapped

All five Gulf Coast GOP governors -- Barbour, Jindahl, Rick Perry of Texas, Robert Riley of Alabama and Charlie Crist of Florida -- have canceled plans to attend the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, which is scheduled to open on Monday.

Likewise have President Bush and Vice President Cheney, the White House announced late Sunday morning.

And GOP convention planners -- on direct orders from McCain -- scrapped virtually the entire opening-night convention schedule, except for the mandatory acceptance of the convention rules and the party platform.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters that neither official would attend the GOP convention, but that First Lady Laura Bush is still planning to attend.

Bush spoke this morning with Nagin to let him know that he was "getting ready to go through this with him again," Perino said. The mayor told the president the forecast didn't look good but that he was pleased with the coordination with top federal officials, she added.

With memories still vivid of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the possibility of serious damage threatened to cast a pall over the convention. Depending on the path the storm takes, it could also affect the plans of governors Bob Riley of Alabama, Rick Perry of Texas and Charlie Crist of Florida.

Bush, who was scheduled to address the convention on Monday, called Gulf Coast governors on Saturday and conferred with federal officials to keep a close watch on developments, said spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The president has been widely criticized for the way the federal government dealt with Katrina and its aftermath and his job-approval ratings have suffered ever since.

But the convention was still on schedule -- although Bush may address the delegates via satellite from the White House instead of in person as originally planned.

"There are no plans for any postponement," said Mike Miller, director of convention operations. "We plan to start when we're going to start and end when we're going to end.

Jerry Lewis Telethon May Also Be Affected

Attention on Gustav may also cast a shadow over the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. The 21 1/2-hour fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association may lose many of its 180 affiliate stations to hurricane coverage, but will go on as scheduled at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday night.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Lewis opened his 2005 telethon with appeals not only for the MDA, but also for the hurricane relief efforts of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. There was no word as of Sunday afternoon, however, if there were plans for Lewis to do so again this year.

(Associated Press reporters Tom Raum and Beth Fouhy contributed to this report.)

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Volume III, Number 49
Special Report Copyright 2008, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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