By Terri Hansen
Environment and Science Writer
Indian Country Today
Gulf Coast, La. - The eye of Hurricane Gustav slammed into Morgan City on the Louisiana Gulf coast about 30 miles southeast from Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana just after noon yesterday, causing heavy damage. The center of the storm then moved northwest directly into the Chitimacha Reservation at near 15 mph, with top winds of 105 mph. Damages to the reservation in Chareton, St. Mary Parish, have not been reported but early Monday morning power outages were reported throughout the parish. Tuesday morning telephone calls to their tribal police department were not answered nor was there voice mail, indicating a power outage there.
The National Weather Service in New Orleans upgraded a Flash Flood Watch to a critical Flood Warning for the entire parish of St. Mary in a bulletin issued at 9:30 p.m. Monday night. Marked Immediate Broadcast Requested, it warns residents, ;'Do not drive through flooded areas. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. Turn around and don't drown.'' Residents who stayed should stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, and local TV and radio stations.
Gustav made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 70 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extending out 200 miles. A tropical storm warning with possible hurricane conditions was still in effect for the area as of 4:30 p.m. Monday, with winds of 45 to 55 mph with gusts to around 75 mph, decreasing to 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph after midnight. The storm is forecast to weaken as it moves inland.
The Chitimacha tribe is in the bayous on the Gulf Coast in South Louisiana, 100 miles southeast of New Orleans. About 350 of their 900 tribal members live on the reservation. The tribal council ordered a mandatory evacuation Sunday morning, and buses were provided to evacuate those with no transportation, tribal police Officer Ellen Hebert said. About 60 to 70 percent left and of those who stayed, ''They're on their own. We have no shelters open.'' Tribal members who refused to leave were told to ''bunk down; you're on your own. We will get to you as soon as it's safe to get back on the streets, after we assess damage and make evaluations.''
The tribal police force of 22 officers stayed, as did the fire department. ''We've secured the casino, and boarded up the government buildings,'' tribal firefighter Earl Tyler said Sunday, who had ''strongly'' suggested tribal members leave. The school and an assisted living center were potential shelters after the hurricane passed, though the extent of the damages is not yet known. Nor is it known when residents can safely return.
The hurricane wind warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning as of Monday night, but a Flash Flood Warning for the inland Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday, and a Flash Flood Watch is in effect for the further inland Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana until Tuesday afternoon. Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms are expected over the central Gulf coast, with tornados still possible. Gustav is expected to slow significantly, causing major flooding Tuesday and Wednesday across inland Louisiana, parts of Texas, and southern Arkansas.