An evening of hot dogs, beer – and howling winds

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The Independent US

Jack Woynowski was sitting in a deckchair eating hot dogs from the barbecue and drinking beer, when towering black clouds first appeared on the horizon south-west of his home in Lakeview, New Orleans.

Ten minutes later, the menacing cloud was directly overhead. Then the rain set in: a wall of water that drenched us to the skin. A balmy summer's evening, with temperatures in the nineties, quickly gave way to the opening salvo of what politicians had billed the "storm of the century".

Hurricane Gustav reached the city yesterday afternoon. But the storm began on Sunday night and, within minutes, Mr Woynowski was sheltering indoors. To many in his shoes, the proper reaction to this reminder of the fearsome power of nature would have been to flee. But in a city of 239,000, at the heart of an evacuation of two million people, he was getting ready to sit Gustav out.

"I've done all the right preparations. I've got a lot of water, plenty of food, propane for my grill, a generator, gas for that generator, and an offshore survival raft tied to the third floor of my home near an upstairs window," said the 60-year-old former US Marine. "Everything that needs to be done has been done."

Estimates suggest that anything from 5 to 10 per cent of New Orleans residents have chosen to ignore official warnings to get out of town. For Mr Woynowski, the decision to join them was a calculated gamble.

"We may very well get floods on the street level but my house is raised three feet, and it has three floors," he said. "It's protected from both sides by three-storey buildings. In some places, yes, people will have their homes destroyed. But I think my area should be OK."

It was a bold call. During Katrina, Lakeview – a middle-class neighbourhood, built on drained swampland – was submerged under 8ft feet of water when the 17th Street Canal burst its banks.

One in three local houses is still derelict and the tide mark from the high point of that flood remains visible halfway up their ground floor windows.

Mr Woynowski, who only recently moved back into his ruined property after two years living in a caravan, has learnt from the previous disaster.

"I do have a weapon, a .45 calibre automatic pistol, and I know how to use it. If looters come round and I have to shoot, I will shoot once, and I will hit someone. I would expect the others to run and scatter."

"To be honest I think it's unlikely to come to that. There are plenty of police and soldiers to stop looters. In fact, I've got a big crate of beer ready for when those National Guard troops arrive at my house."

Mr Woynowski was spending Gustav in his top floor study, sorting out a mountain of paperwork related to his insurance claim from Katrina.

His neighbours Michael and Ellen Meyers, a young professional couple who live over the road with their rescue dogs, Floppy and Gaby, were also intending sit out the storm.

They took the final decision to stay at 1pm on Sunday, when it emerged that the storm's direction had shifted, and that its worst effects would be felt to about a hundred miles west of New Orleans.

"When you live here, and you study the maps and charts, you get to know when a storm is going to hurt. And this is no Katrina," said Mr Meyers.

"Before Katrina, the charts showed clouds covering the entire Gulf. Here, by comparison, it's tiny. It's fast moving, so should pass relatively quickly, and the high pressure points over the land will help."

Mr and Mrs Meyers are emboldened by the post-Katrina construction work plus the robustness of their new property.

It was built on 6ft high concrete piers with the insurance payout from the previous disaster, which washed away their former away their former home.

Mrs Meyers said: "We got out for Katrina, were on the road for two months, and the dogs didn't like that. So when this one came, they said 'Momo, we ain't going'.

"Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they've done. If I'd had young children, I would have got out too."