With Hurricane Gustav moving in, Saints to prepare for opener in Indy

Updated: September 1, 2008, 11:22 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- A hurricane has driven the Saints out of New Orleans again. They don't plan on being gone nearly as long this time.

With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast three years after Katrina swamped New Orleans, the Saints left Saturday for Indianapolis, where they will spend the week preparing for the Sept. 7 opener against Tampa Bay.

The Saints will practice at the Colts' new Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Tampa Bay game is scheduled for the Louisiana Superdome, and the Saints plan to be there for it unless damage from Gustav dictates otherwise. Gustav dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 storm early Sunday morning, but forecasters warned it could gain strength from the gulf's warm waters before making landfall as early as Monday. It was projected to make landfall as early Monday, and could bring a storm surge of up to 20 feet to the coast and rainfall totals of up to 15 inches.

New Orleans officials aren't using the Superdome as an evacuation shelter with Gustav. Three years ago, it became a symbol of pain and suffering when thousands of residents were stranded by Katrina floodwaters that poured through broken levees.

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Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty ImagesAs voluntary evacuations in New Orleans begin in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav, the Saints will head to Indianapolis to prepare for their season opener against the Bucs.

The Saints spent the entire 2005 season on the road, practicing in San Antonio and playing three games there, going to the Meadowlands to play the New York Giants in their "home opener" and using LSU's home stadium in Baton Rouge for their other four home games.

The Superdome, trashed inside and out, needed a $185 million makeover that was barely finished in time for the 2006 season. Every Saints home game the past two seasons has been a sellout, making the team a key part of the city's ongoing recovery.

New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn called Wednesday's meeting with the whole organization, stressing the importance of evacuation. The NBA team's office was closed Friday to give evacuees a head start.

The Hornets have roughly 125-plus employees in New Orleans. All have been evacuated, along with the players.

Chris Paul was in town as recently as Thursday for a photo shoot with the team's new uniforms and his gold medal. He has since left town as well.

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande that players are at offseason homes.

The Hornets have also established an 800 number and an internal Web site for team employees to consult.

"A lot of us went through this three years ago with Katrina, so we're much better prepared," Hornets director of basketball communications Dennis Rogers told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. "We have a very good grip on where everyone is.

"If anything does happen, we'll be among the first people back to help the city out in any way we can. Mr. Shinn has been in close contact with state and local officials ... our No. 1 concern is for the state and the city."

Information from ESPN.com Marc Stein and The Associated Press was used in this report.