With Hurricane Gustav headed straight toward New Orleans, emergency officials and telecommunication companies are preparing for the worst.
Gustav's winds had reached 150mph as of midday Saturday, making it a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. The NHC predicted that Gustav could reach Category 5--the highest level possible.
Gustav is pounding Cuba right now. It is expected to reach the Gulf Coast on Monday afternoon.
On Saturday, the NHC began trying out Gustav updates via podcast. The NHC is also making a PDA/smartphone-friendly version of its site available.
According to the Associated Press, the nation's wireless carriers have been preparing for such a storm since Katrina, which devastated their networks and left trapped residents without communications.
On Friday, the AP said, Sprint Nextel's emergency response team was heading down to the Gulf Coast in a caravan of trucks that can act as cell towers. Meanwhile, the wire service said, Verizon Wireless has spent $137 million over the past year to beef up its network in the Gulf Coast. And AT&T, the main landline provider in the region, has added capacity, replaced some cables with waterproof ones, and replaced copper wiring, which can short out when wet, with optical fiber.
Verizon told the AP that all of its cell sites in the region now have batteries to power them for at least eight hours. Many also have generators with fuel for up to seven days. AT&T's cell sites in the area have generators that last up to 36 hours, the AP reported, and Sprint installed generators at 1,300 cell sites in the Southeast last year.
On Friday, New Orleans marked the third anniversary of Katrina. That hurricane, a Category 5 storm that shrank to a Category 3 by the time it reached the Gulf Coast, killed between 1,500 and 1,600 people. Katrina also caused $80 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, according to Reuters.
Although mandatory evacuations have not yet been ordered in New Orleans, thousands of residents were getting out Saturday.