By Jim Seida, msnbc.com senior multimedia producer
New Orleans residents gather at the main Amtrak station to get bused out of town before Hurricane Gustave hits. Jim Seida / msnbc.com
New Orleans is closing. The party, at least for now, is over. As Hurricane Gustav approaches, people are heeding the government's warnings and heading out of town, leaving the streets mostly empty but for police cruisers and National Guard trucks, patrolling for stragglers.
Coming into the city from Mobile, Ala., was an eye-opening experience. Even as far as Mobile, 120 miles west of New Orleans, the effects of the storm were already being felt. The local Wal-Mart there was out of gas cans and AA batteries. There were almost no flashlights left and the aisles with boxed juices, cookies, and other foods that are easy to eat while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate were well picked over.
When you're running from (or toward) a hurricane, everybody needs the same things...water, gas, food.
Heading west toward New Orleans felt wrong. The eastbound lanes of I-10 were packed with cars full of families, pickup trucks with furniture and appliances and large, rented moving trucks. It looked like a dense cluster of white Christmas lights, and endless stream of bright white lights. It's' an exodus, a migration. There were hardly any vehicles at all in the westbound lanes, just an occasional set of red taillights moving through the darkness.
Three years ago, when Hurricane Katrina was coming, it wasn't the same. Thousands of people stayed behind to ride out the storm. There wasn't the structure or organization needed to get everyone out in time. This time though, the city has an evacuation plan. They have collection points where people are gathering to be bused out of town. So far, the evacuation seems to be going smoothly.