NEW ORLEANS — The basic kit for hurricane survival - food and shelter - was holding out in the face of a huge storm that was expected to sit on the Gulf coast for as many as three days.
But given forecasts that hurricane Georges would linger for so long, concerns were rising that food supplies would run low for hundreds of thousands of people holed up in shelters.
"We're looking at a unique situation that we've never experienced on the coast, even in Camille [in 1969]," says Hank Turk, civil defense director in Jackson County, Miss. "We are looking at possibly four nights of shelter, when generally we are looking at shelter being less than a 24-hour thing with limited feeding."
As a result, some evacuees have brought their own food to their shelters, and American Red Cross officials were trying to locate a cache of MREs - those dehydrated ready-to-eat meals usually reserved for soldiers in the field.
Yesterday, the worst of the storm struck coastal Mississippi and Alabama, producing gusts of 172 m.p.h. and sustained winds of 105 m.p.h. The forecast called for the hurricane to drop as much as 30 inches of rain. At presstime, no fatalities had been reported in the US.
At the last moment, Georges veered away from New Orleans, where thousands had fled northward and the usually raucous streets were quiet and mostly empty. More than 1.5 million people were ordered or urged to vacate the city and coastal Louisiana, although not all complied.
"I'm certain that this ranks as probably the largest evacuation we have ever achieved," says Lt. Col. Ronnie Jones of the Louisiana State Police.
Many of those who chose to stay, however, moved to safer ground - schools, shelters, and the Superdome. The world's largest indoor arena, home to the New Orleans Saints and pro football's greatest annual event, was used as an evacuation center for the first time Sunday. About 10,000 evacuees spread out blankets on the floor of the arena's four ballrooms, with some people overflowing into concourses and hallways.
"We stopped trying to register people," says Doug Thornton, the Superdome's general manager, unaccustomed to having his facility used as a hotel of last resort. "We were just trying to get people off the street."