Update on Gustav damage

September 3, 2008 5:15:45 AM PDT
It is now Tuesday morning, and our crew is headed southwest from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On a normal day, the drive would take about 2 and a half hours. September 2, 2008...4am

So far this morning, it's slow going. It's been pouring rain all night, we are on a 2 lane road, and it's pitch black outside. There are no street lights. We've already come across some standing water and debris in the road, forcing us to slow down even more - and at times, slam on the breaks.

Photo-journalist Dave Anderson and I are following "Big Blue." That's what we call our large satellite truck. The goal is to scope out the damage caused by Gustav in Baton Rouge. Early predictions had the storm plowing through New Orleans, the same area devastated by Hurricane Katrina three years earlier. But as Gustav made landfall Monday - it took a westward turn, catching the people who weren't forced to evacuate off-guard. There are reports of deaths in Baton Rouge -- at least two of the victims were people who were only staying in Baton Rouge to escape their home near New Orleans.

Monday, as our crew was riding out the worst of the storm along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, we spoke with a lot of people who were doing the same. Many of them loaded up RVs and got out of dodge... Katrina and its fury, still fresh in their minds. One man I spoke with lost his home in Katrina, and lived in a truck/camper parked in his French quarter driveway for 6 months. He purchased an RV last month -- the main purpose being to more easily escape major storms. He told me it's one of the best purchases he's ever made.

Many New Orleans residents also tell me they are pleased with how prepared everyone was for this storm. Even though it didn't provide the one-two punch predicted, they are still under the firm mindset - "better safe than sorry."

The bad news: Hotels are sold out for hundreds of miles outside the Big Easy. Our crew couldn't get a room anywhere, Holiday Inn telling us they don't have an empty room within a 500 mile radius of New Orleans.

Luckily - the owner of the Baer House Inn, a quaint and historical B&B in Vicksburg - accommodated our crew. I slept on a roll-away bed in the parlor. My photographer and satellite truck operator both slept in the owner's RV parked in the driveway. We were lucky to have a bathroom to share.

The good news: Hotels are sold out for hundreds of miles. That means millions of people took the advice of authorities to evacuate - and played it safe.

As we slowly and cautiously make our way into Louisiana - we aren't quite sure what to expect. Be sure to watch ABC11 throughout the day for our reports.


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