Theatrical turn from the heroic lead

If Hurricane Gustav is turning into a real-life version of a Hollywood disaster movie then Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans, has cast himself firmly in the role of heroic lead male.

It was Mr Nagin who declared on Saturday that "the storm of the century" was about to hit his city. "This is the real deal," he said. "This is not a test. Everyone who's out there thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that would be one of the biggest mistakes you could make in your life.

"I normally am very calm about these press conferences ... trying to give assurance to our citizens. But ... tonight... you need to be scared. And you need to get your butts out of New Orleans right now... Anyone who decides to stay, make sure you have an axe, because you will be busting your way out of your attic to get on your roof."

There was a feeling in some quarters that Mr Nagin had watched one too many disaster movies. "I think that [warning] may be a bit of an exaggeration," Eric Blake from the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Mr Nagin, 52, was first elected in 2003 and became the international face of his city's suffering during the catastrophe of Katrina. But his conduct during the tragedy, and his criticism of President Bush and federal relief agencies also drew critics. So did his office's subsequent role in the rebuilding of the city.

His dramatic warning may allow Mr Nagin to secure a less blemished place in the history books, but if the hurricane missed New Orleans, or petered out, a million evacuees may round on him for their inconvenience.

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