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Saturday, September 26, 1998 Published at 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK

World: Americas

Hurricane heading for New Orleans

Twenty feet-high waves crashed onto the streets of Key West

Malcolm Brabant reports from Miami
New Orleans has begun a race against time as Hurricane Georges churns towards Louisiana and Alabama after ripping through Florida and the Caribbean.

Forecasters expect Georges, which has killed at least 300 people, to hit land around noon local time on Sunday with the New Orleans area its likely target.

[ image: Even the space shuttle was moved to safety]
Even the space shuttle was moved to safety
Police have started issuing evacuation orders along the Florida Gulf, and a hurricane watch has begun in the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, said: "New Orleans is a real problem. It takes a long time to evacuate, plus it's surrounded by water and levees.''

Charlie Ireland, assistant director of emergency management, added."New Orleans is going on all cylinders. We're closing floodgates and low-lying bridges."

City officials have called for voluntary evacuation inside the hurricane protection levees and a mandatory evacuation outside the levees.

State highway workers, aided by volunteers and prison inmates, are piling sandbags along Interstate 10 in New Orleans and Highway 190 west of the city.

Louisiana Governor Mike Foster has declared a state of emergency and in neighbouring Mississippi voluntary evacuations along the coastline are under way.

The dockside gambling casinos that line the Mississippi coast shut down on Friday night.

Florida clean-up begins

Meanwhile, National Guard troops and repair crews have moved into the Keys, an island chain at the southern tip of Florida pummelled by raging winds and torrential rains on Friday.

{ Audio 2} Key West, the southernmost US city, took a direct hit. The storm felled power lines, wrenched trees from the ground, overturned boats, and tore away signs.

Georges also dumped beach sand on the Overseas Highway, the only road through the 150 km-chain.

President Bill Clinton declared a state of emergency in Florida and authorised federal assistance while the storm was still blowing across the state.

"We are as ready as we can be, and we pray that the human and material cost will be limited," he said.

Dominican Republic forecasters got it wrong.

[ image: Hundreds of thousands are homeless]
Hundreds of thousands are homeless
The worst devastation has been in the Dominican Republic where Georges has caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.

The government is now under fire for lack of preparation.

More than 200 people were killed in the island - at least 700 are still missing and 100,000 are homeless.

The government estimates that 90% of crops were damaged, including tobacco and sugarcane fields.

The Dominican Congress has demanded an investigation of the National Emergency Commission, accusing it of being ill-prepared and slow to take action.

The Civil Defence and Meteorology Departments failed to predict Georges' strength. As late as Monday, they said Georges would not affect the country.

Many areas are still without drinking water, forcing residents to drink from polluted rivers that could still contain the corpses of hurricane victims.

Throughout the region the death toll has topped 300, with at least 210 dead in the Dominican Republic, 87 in Haiti, four in Cuba, three in Puerto Rico, three in St. Kitts and two in Antigua.

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Internet Links

American Red Cross: Are You Ready for a Hurricane?

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