New Orleans Honors Katrina Victims and Prepares for Gustav | NBC New York

New Orleans Honors Katrina Victims and Prepares for Gustav

Forecasters say the tropical storm could be a hurricane when it hits next week



    This satellite image released by NOAA shows Tropical Storm Gustav over the Caribbean. (AP Photo/NOAA)

    NEW ORLEANS -- With a new storm threatening to cause chaos in New Orleans all over again, a horse-drawn carriage brought the last seven unclaimed bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims for entombment at a memorial site today during ceremonies marking the disaster's third anniversary.

    The ceremonies were tinged with a recognition of how much the city has rebuilt since Katrina's floods, as well as fear that another disaster could be looming.

    "We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat," Mayor Ray Nagin said as he helped guide a gleaming coffin into a mausoleum.

    Tropical Storm Gustav was swirling near Jamaica on Friday after being blamed for 67 deaths in Hispaniola. Forecasters said it could hit the Louisiana coast early next week as a major hurricane and city and state officials were preparing for possible weekend evacuations — the first in the state since Katrina hit in 2005.

    About 200 people attended the ceremony. Many rang hand-held bells at 9:38 a.m., the time that levee breaches that inundated the city are believe to have begun.

    "I think God is reminding us that on the eve of Katrina, God can bring nature back," said Russell Honore, the retired Army General who headed up rescue efforts three years ago.

    Preparations for Gustav forced cancellation of other Katrina memorials today.

    The National Guard was scheduled to begin convoying into New Orleans, while some nursing homes and hospitals planned to start moving patients further inland and the state began moving 9,000 inmates from coastal lockups.

    An evacuation order for New Orleans was likely, Nagin said, but not before Saturday Meanwhile, residents of areas further south could be told to leave starting Friday, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. Mississippi and Texas officials were also eyeing the storm's path, and making preparations of their own.

    Forecasters reiterated that storm projections days ahead of a storm are extremely tenuous. National Hurricane Center specialist Richard Knabb cautioned that the track forecast is still uncertain and the final landfall is possible throughout the northern Gulf Coast.

    At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of Gustav was about 165 miles east-southeast of Grand Cayman. It had top sustained winds near 65 mph.

    But forecasters said for the first time that there's a better than ever chance that New Orleans will feel at least tropical storm-force winds. There was much less confidence in whether the city would get hit by hurricane-force winds.