CNN Special Investigations Reporter
CNN Special Investigations Producer
As Hurricane Gustav took direct aim at New Orleans, social workers and homeless advocates spent the last few hours before the evacuation deadline looking for the homeless.
Early Sunday morning, Mike Miller from the group Unity of Greater New Orleans was clambering into abandoned buildings, looking for signs people had been sheltering there.
“Watch out for the nails,” he warns as he steps inside.
Miller says that there are more than 71,000 abandoned and blighted buildings in New Orleans and many have become shelters for the city’s homeless. He says that since the homeless don’t have TV, radio or newspaper subscriptions, word of mouth is the only way to warn of the imminent storm.
“How do you find those people, how many of those people will be missed? Miller asks. “Is that the kind of thing you can only count after a body toll?”
In building after building, Miller shouts inside, but gets no answer.
Under a bridge, he finds one homeless man and warns him that the last bus will soon be leaving the city.
“I’ll be there,” the homeless man promises.
“Beautiful,” Miller responds.
CNN Senior Correspondent
Gustav may strike Louisiana with fury, but around Lake Charles, 200 miles West of New Orleans, few residents will be around to witness the storm.
Memories of Hurricane Rita, which hit this region head on three years ago, are turning Calcasieu Parish- population 195,000- into a series of ghost towns.
“We expect 80-85% of the Parish will be out by tonight,” said Jason Barnes,
Calcasieu’s Special Programs Coordinator. A mandatory evacuation went into effect at 12 noon Sunday.
“We’re trying to get there, babe!” Optimistic words from a cheerful couple behind me on one of the last planes to the Gulf Coast. Unlike most flights these days, this plane to Gulfport, Mississippi has plenty of empty seats. And there is an easy camaraderie among this determined band of travelers.
Mark and Julie Kael are racing back from a trip to Europe to check on their daughter and newborn grandchild who’ve evacuated to Lacombe, Louisiana. The Kaels lost their home in St. Bernard Parish in Katrina. The highways out of Louisiana are all on contra flow now. But Mark and Julie know the back roads. “We’ll make it,” they insist. “After what we’ve been through, this is nothing.”
The 6th Police District of New Orleans is home to about 30 thousand people. On an hour long ride along with the NOPD tonight I counted seven. The streets are deserted.
“It’s a little eerie” says Maj. Bob Bardy, the top cop in the 6th district.” I think people have learned their lessons”
The 6th district begins at the Mississippi river and covers the opulent garden district all through housing projects near Martin Luther King Ave. where the police station sits amongst dilapidated wooden houses, some still damaged from Katrina.
AC360° Editorial Producer
About 5 minutes before the special edition of 360 started, the very first band of Gustav rolled in.
And boy was it a shocker.
We weren't expecting it to start that early, and it effectively knocked out our live shot and phone communications for a few minutes. One of the joys of covering a story created by Mother Nature.
But fortunately, our crew and truck engineer managed to get moved under an overhang and get things up and running pretty fast. If the first band was any indication of Gustav, we are in for a long night...
We just heard from iReporter James Carroll, a grad student at Tulane.
Up until this morning he'd been debating whether to stay or leave New Orleans.
Around Noon, he and a friend evacuated, passing boarded homes and National Guardsmen as they left the city. Take a look:
Tonight, he says it ‘seems safer’ in Gulf Shores, Alabama, even as he snapped this image of Gustav looming off the coast. Keep in mind despite the darkness, it was only 7:00 pm
Tonight, he says, “I’m worried about NOLA.”
I’m sitting in the 6th district police station in NOLA’s Central City and suddenly it seems real.
The winds have picked up considerably and the rain is starting to lash against the windows. Moments after the wind picked up the power went out.
A pack of cops hurried to get the back up generator running. What few lights were on in the blocks around the police station are now dark.
It’s not a hurricane yet, but New Orleans just got it first sign that Gustav is heading this way.
Editor's Note: This dispatch was sent in by CNN's Drew Griffin in Mississippi. Within a half-hour, the sky grew dark and the winds picked up. Here is Drew's dispatch:
I'm sitting on the levee of the Mississippi in Gretna. It's across the river from New Orleans in what's called the West Bank.
My story tonight focuses on the lack of improvements to the levees over here – mostly because the West bank stayed dry during Katrina. But now that Gustav is hitting... or could hit... at a bad angle for the West Bank, the area is under mandatory evacuation.
Take a look at this photo-the busy Mississippi has no traffic now for hours. We're all just waiting now-and I just felt a drop of rain.
I have watched the city sort of claw its way back since Katrina. I’ve lived here the past three years.
I have seen tourists slowly return, convention business pick up, and certainly the slowest sign of recovery –people rebuilding their homes and lives.
I watched with complete amazement as people poured out of the city in about a day, instantly turning New Orleans into a ghost town once again.
So, last night I decided this could be the last time I have some free time to myself in a long time, so jumped on the mountain bike and took a ride along the levee next to the Mississippi River.
It was dusk, as I wound my way around and I had a chance to look down at all the homes wondering if they would all be there intact on Tuesday.
"Get out, and get out now" is the first thing I heard from city officials as I began to ride out the storm at New Orleans city hall. At an early Sunday morning press conference officials continued to plead with residents to leave the city. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin also warned following the storm looting would not be tolerated.
For those inside city hall, only 'super' non- essential personnel will be staying in town to ride out the storm. All other local government employees are to leave the city. During the storm those left in the building could be evacuated to the Super Dome across the street if the building was badly damaged said City Council President Jacquelyn Clarkson. The Super Dome following Katrina was reinforced to withstand 200 mph giving city official an alternate plan.