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Hurricane Gustav forces millions to evacuate, halts oil production

by BuaNews Online
on 01 Sep 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

Nearly two million people were evacuated from the United States Gulf Coast and offshore oil platforms and refineries were shut down on Sunday due to Hurricane Gustav's approaching landing.

Gustav is set to crash ashore midday Monday with a forecast force of Category 3. The wind is expected to pick up over 200 kilometre per hour when it hits the Louisiana coast.

It has already killed at least 94 people on its path through Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba, triggering heavy rainfalls and flooding.

In New Orleans, which was badly hit by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered an evacuation. "I encourage everyone to leave," he said, warning that anyone who refuses to leave would face extreme danger.

Mayor Nagin also ordered a curfew and warned of harsh punishment on those who looted shops and homes amid the evacuation.

Most local residents, heavy with memories of Katrina, jammed evacuation routes. Government has provided trains and buses to facilitate the evacuation.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said about 1.9 million people had fled the coastal areas and only 10 000 were estimated to have stayed in New Orleans.

"It is not too late to evacuate, [and] I strongly encourage you to do so," he appealed to the public at a press conference.

Local media reported that thousands more had left Mississippi, Alabama and southeast Texas.

Facing Gustav's threat, energy companies have raced to stop their operations in the region.

Over 96 percent of oil production and 82 percent of natural gas output in the US Gulf region had been closed as of Sunday afternoon, according to the US Minerals Management Service.

At least nine refineries, whose combined production accounted for about 15 percent of the country's total refining capacity, have been shut down before Gustav's arrival. They belong to such companies as Exxon Mobil Corp, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Valero Energy Corp.

So far, all offshore oil production in the region has also been halted.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the US port which handles about 12 percent of the nation's total crude imports and is tied by pipeline to about half of the total US refining capacity, has shut down operation too as it is in the storm's direct path.

Amid worries that Gustav would boost the oil prices on market, the New York Mercantile Exchange opened its electronic trading platform earlier than normal on Sunday to allow traders to change their positions. Crude oil futures were increased by $1.54 to $116.97 a barrel as of 2351 GMT. - BuaNews-Xinhua

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