Sunday, August 31, 2008

Louisiana tribes brace as monstrous Hurricane Gustav approaches

 Louisiana tribes brace as monstrous Hurricane Gustav approaches

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Reporter


Hurricane Gustav is building into a massive, major hurricane as it moves closer to the Gulf Coast.

According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Hurricane Gustav entered the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 4 storm. It slipped back to Category 3 on Sunday afternoon with sustained wind speeds of 120 mph, but is expected to regain Category 4 strength by landfall on the Gulf Coast on Monday, Sept. 1 on Labor Day. It is forecast to remain a major hurricane on land.

The Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana in Charenton, Louisiana, on the bayous of South Louisiana and the Gulf coast, is in the direct path of Gustav. The Chitimacha tribal council announced a mandatory evacuation Sunday morning, Aug. 31. The surrounding parish (county) of St. Mary’s is under mandatory order to flee the area.

The National Weather Service has issued a Hurricane Warning and a flash flood watch. “Flash flooding is a very dangerous situation. You should monitor later forecasts and be prepared to take action should flash flood warnings be issued.”

About 350 tribal members live on the reservation. Transportation was provided to evacuate those with no transportation. Tribal Police Officer Ellen Hebert says 60 to 70 percent have left, and those that stayed, chose to stay.

Of those who have stayed, “They’re on their own.” Their tribal police force, 14 full time officers and eight reserves, is staying, as is the fire department. “We’ve secured the casino, and boarded up the government buildings, " says tribal firefighter Earl Tyler. Tyler “strongly suggests” tribal members leave, now. Hebert agrees. “We have no shelters open.” She is telling tribal members who refuse to leave to, “bunk down, you’re on your own. We will get to you as soon as it’s safe to get back on the streets, after we access damage and make evaluations.”

The school and an assisted living center are potential shelters after the hurricane passes. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 50 miles from the center, and tropical storm winds extend outward up to 200 miles impacting the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of Louisiana and the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. The Tunica-Biloxi face sustained winds of 30 to 35 mph, with gusts to 55 mph.

The Coushatta will see steady winds of 25 to 30 mph, and gusts to 40 mph. Both tribes – whose offices are closed for the holiday weekend – can expect heavy rainfall, and thunderstorms expected to last several days.

Worried friends and family members can call the Chitimacha Tribal Police at 1-337-923-4964 after the hurricane has passed.

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