LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Gulf Coast residents fleeing their homes ahead of Hurricane Gustav began arriving today in Arkansas. The Arkansas National Guard prepared to shelter thousands for weeks if the storm hits in repeat fashion as hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago, when at least 15,000 people sought refuge in the inland state.
As of about 9 p.m., the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said there were 200 people being sheltered at Fort Chaffee, with another 2,000 on their way by bus. Three more planeloads of evacuees were also expected at the base. Shelters for people making their own way have opened in a number of Arkansas counties, with more to open on Sunday.
Gustav is a Category 4 storm and it hit western Cuba tonight. The storm is forecast to continue its path into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Chaffee is prepared to take up to 4,000 evacuees for up to 30 days, if necessary. The post in western Arkansas is for evacuees being brought in via organized transport, while the other shelters are for folks making their own way to safety.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has issued a mandatory evacuation order effective Sunday. The forecast track for the storm shows it heading for the central coast of Louisiana, which would prompt an evacuation from Cajun country. The forecast track and the intensity of the storm could change.