MIAMI — Hurricane Gustav grew into a monstrous Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, teetering on the cusp of Category 5 strength as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico early today. A Monday afternoon landfall was likely near central Louisiana, but forecasters cautioned it was too early to rule out a threat to New Orleans.
''Even if it falls just west of New Orleans, people in that whole neighborhood are going to feel the effects of a major, major hurricane,'' said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin late Saturday warned that Gustav is the ''mother of all storms'' and ordered a phased mandatory evacuation for the city beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.
''Get out of town,'' he said. "This is not the one to play with. You need to be scared.''
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch extending from High Island, Texas, to the Alabama-Florida border as an estimated million people began fleeing the area.
Northbound lanes out of New Orleans saw bumper-to-bumper traffic as residents fled on Saturday, one day after the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain said the Republican National Convention may be postponed.
''It just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster,'' McCain told Fox News in an interview taped for Sunday. "So we're monitoring it from day to day, and I'm saying a few prayers, too.''
Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas decided not to attend the convention, instead opting to remain in their states during the storm.
FEMA put equipment in position in the region and readied safe shelters, with cots, blankets and hygiene kits en route.
As part of the evacuation plan New Orleans developed after Hurricane Katrina, residents who had no other way to get out of the city waited in a line that snaked for more than a mile through the parking lot of the city's Union Passenger Terminal. From there, they were to board buses bound for shelters in north Louisiana.
''I don't like it,'' said Joseph Jones, 61, while waiting in line with a towel draped over his head to block the sun. "Going someplace you don't know, people you don't know. And then when you come back, is your house going to be OK?''
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