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Gustav may be unwelcome guest

Now a tropical storm, Gustav is predicted to regain hurricane status as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend; projected track worries disaster responders in Houston, New Orleans

BY BOND BRUNGARD | HOUSTON | August 26, 2008

The size, strength and final destination of Tropical Storm Gustav, now pounding Haiti with heavy rains, are far from certain but the current five-day track would bring it off the Louisiana coast by Labor Day. That possibility has disaster responders between New Orleans and Houston preparing for the worst.

Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center issued a Tropical Storm Warning and Hurricane Watch for Jamaica and a Hurricane Warning for several provinces in Cuba.

Forecasters expect the storm to regain hurricane strength on Thursday and some intensity predictions call for the storm to be a strong category four or five as it approaches the U.S. coast early next week.

As forecasters refine their forecasts, a sense of nervousness has already starting to rise in Houston. Kathie Mann, director of partners in mission for the Texas Annual Conference for The United Methodist Church, said the call will go out by the beginning of the Labor Day weekend to activate shelters.

If the storm stays on track, Mann said she expects stores to empty of the essential items, such as bottled water, as people prepare for Gustav.

“I am very concerned it will hit our coast,” she said.

Three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Mann said the Houston area is as prepared as it can be, via interfaith communications, to help with an impending disaster.

“We knew what we had to do after Katrina and Rita, and we’ve kept the momentum up,” she said. “We’re as prepared as we’ve ever been.”

Like Mann, Jayne Wright, the executive director of the Food Bank of Louisiana, has also been watching Gustav’s path. Wright’s food bank is located in the Louisiana’s first sector, where shelters would open for residents fleeing north from the coast.

“My staff is on alert right now,” said Wright. “Everyone is aware the storm is coming.”

Wright said her food bank has supplies of bottled water, snacks and meals to get people through the initial stages of a storm.

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