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D/FW will serve as staging ground for Gustav evacuees

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport may serve as a key landing point for hundreds of medical patients airlifted from New Orleans to Metroplex hospitals beginning Sunday, as Hurricane Gustav moves into the Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, if Gustav hits New Orleans, the former Delta Air Lines satellite facility near Terminal E would end up serving as temporary living quarters for 800 federal relief employees who were stationed at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong Airport as the storm approached, officials said.

"This is going to be a huge team effort," said Brian Magana, D/FW spokesman.

The first patients are tentatively scheduled to arrive early Sunday -- D/FW officials initially projected Saturday morning, but later revised that to Sunday -- on military transports and other aircraft. Ambulances will be waiting to transfer them to more than a dozen area hospitals until they can return to New Orleans.

About 500 Gulf Coast patients will be evacuated, and split between D/FW and El Paso. A majority of the patients will likely end up here, Magana said.

The direction and strength of the storm could affect the timing of the effort.

D/FW is also available to serve as an evacuation center for hundreds of federal employees, including Transportation Security Administration workers, Defense Department employees, federal air marshals, and others, who have been brought in to work at Louis Armstrong.

Those employees are relieving local workers who have been given time off to prepare their homes for the storm and evacuate with their families.

"These are the ones who will be turning out the airport's lights, they'll be the last ones out," Magana said.D/FW has been preparing the Delta satellite facility with cots, showers, privacy sheets and other amenities.

Employees will stay until the storm passes, Magana said. "They'll be the first ones back once it's safe," he said.Airport officials are preparing to house the workers for up to 10 days if necessary, although Magana said a shorter stay is likely.

Staff writer Bryon Okada contributed to this report.