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|Officials: Thousands of Gustav evacuees in Ouachita|
Almost two million people fled homes across southern Louisiana and as many as 20,000 made their way to northeastern Louisiana to wait out Hurricane Gustav. The storm made landfall earlier Monday near Houma.
Shelters across Ouachita Parish began filling up early Sunday, sending the American Red Cross and emergency preparedness officials scrambling to find more room.
Officials said anywhere from 4,000 to just over 7,000 evacuees inhabited shelters in Ouachita. The shelters include Monroe Civic Center, West Monroe Convention Center, West Monroe Sports Complex, Ewing-Fant Coliseum at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and the Accent Marketing building off Interstate 20 near U.S. Highway 165.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth was in Baton Rouge Monday to help manage the crisis.
Walsworth is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Homeland Security -- the committee in charge of disaster preparations for the Senate.
Walsworth told The Ouachita Citizen he was encouraged that the evacuation went as well as it did.
"The good news is everybody that wanted out is out," Walsworth said.
Walsworth said the evacuation of southern Louisiana was "pretty much completed" by about 5 p.m. Sunday.
In just over 24 hours, Walsworth said the state moved almost one-half of its population.
Closer to home, Ouachita Parish representatives of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness braced for high winds and heavy rains that Gustav was expected to bring late Monday.
Ouachita Parish GOHSEP director Joe Stewart said relief efforts were running smoothly, "all things considered."
Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Walt Caldwell said he was encouraging residents to make sure drainage ditches around their homes were cleaned out.
"There is simply no way the police jury and the cities can get out there and clean every ditch in the parish before this storm hits," Caldwell said. "So it's up to individuals to make sure the ditches are clean."
That's important, Caldwell said, because the region received more than 400 percent of its normal rainfall in August.
With the ground saturated from higher-than-normal rainfall, keeping ditches flowing will be one of the most important challenges as northeast Louisiana gets the first rains of Gustav, according to Caldwell.