Hurricane Gustav has Kentucky gearing up to receive more than 4,000 evacuees from the New Orleans area.
Lexington has agreed to house up to 750 people, and is prepared to receive as many as 300 more who have special medical needs, according to officials. According to the governor's office, Louisville could get about 3,000 evacuees, while Owensboro and Bowling Green could get 250 each.
Pat Dugger, director of Lexington's division of environmental and emergency management, said that planes loaded with evacuees are set to start taking off from New Orleans at 10 a.m. Central time Saturday.
"Everyone is being brought into Louisville," she said.
Several LexTran buses and Fayette County school buses are on standby to bring evacuees from the Kentucky Air National Guard base at Louisville International Airport to Lexington.
"As far as we know, yes, they are coming," Dugger said.
At least three Lexington facilities have been designated as shelters for evacuees. They are Centenary United Methodist Church, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Northeast Christian Church.
"We are operating under the idea that everyone will arrive here, and are moving forward," said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
Earlier this week at Northeast Christian Church, local health department employees participated in a special medical needs field exercise, which had been planned months previously.
"It was really good for us," Hall said. "It's still fresh in our employees' minds," he added.
Kerry Graul, disaster coordinator for the Bluegrass Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, said her organization has blankets, cots, air mattresses, pillows and comfort kits ready for evacuees and is working with food vendors.
As Lexington and other parts of the state prepare to accept evacuees, seven Lexington firefighters are heading to Mississippi to do urban search and rescue work that might be necessary because of the hurricane.
Eve Guilbault, who has made Lexington her home since 2005 when she fled from New Orleans to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, expressed reserved optimism that disaster preparations in her hometown are better this time.
She recalled the nine hours it took her to drive from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala., because traffic was so backed up with vehicles headed north, away from the hurricane.
"Hopefully they've learned something about taking care of the residents of New Orleans," she said.
She's worried about her mother who still lives in New Orleans, she said.
"I've been calling her every day, checking on her," she said. "She's stubborn; she just won't go."
Guilbault said she has a brother in Baton Rouge, La., and her mother could go to his home in the event of a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.
Guilbault herself has no plans of ever returning to New Orleans to live.
"I do miss my home terribly, but the thought of losing everything again terrifies me more," she said.