By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer 21 minutes ago
Monstrous Hurricane Katrina barreled toward the Big Easy on Sunday
with 165-mph wind and a threat of a 28-foot storm surge, forcing a
mandatory evacuation, a last-ditch Superdome shelter and prayers for
those left to face the doomsday scenario this below-sea-level city has
"Have God on your side, definitely have God on your side," Nancy Noble
said as she sat with her puppy and three friends in six lanes of
one-way traffic on gridlocked Interstate 10. "It's very frightening."
Katrina intensified into a Category 5 giant over the warm water of the
Gulf of Mexico on a path to make landfall at sunrise Monday in the
heart of New Orleans. That would make it the city's first direct hit
in 40 years and the most powerful storm ever to slam the city. It
eased slightly during the day, with top sustained wind down from 175
mph, but forecasters said fluctuations were likely.
But forecasters warned that Mississippi was also in danger because
Katrina was such a big storm -- with hurricane-force winds extending up
to 105 miles from the center -- that even areas far from the landfall
could be devastated.
"I'm really scared," New Orleans resident Linda Young said as she
filled her gas tank. "I've been through hurricanes, but this one
scares me. I think everybody needs to get out."
Showers began falling on southeastern Louisiana and other parts of the
Gulf Coast on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by pounding surf as far
east as the Florida Panhandle, the first hints of a storm with a
potential surge of 18 to 28 feet, even bigger waves and as much as 15
inches of rain.
"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," Mayor C. Ray
Nagin said in ordering the mandatory evacuation for his city of
485,000 people, surrounded by suburbs of a million more. "The storm
surge will most likely topple our levee system."
Conceding that as many as 100,000 inner-city residents didn't have the
means to leave and an untold number of tourists were stranded by the
closing of the airport, the city arranged buses to take people to 10
last-resort shelters, including the Superdome.
Nagin also dispatched police and firefighters to rouse people out with
sirens and bullhorns, and even gave them the authority to commandeer
vehicles to aid in the evacuation.
"This is very serious, of the highest nature," the mayor said. "This
is a once-in-a-lifetime event."
For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare scenario a big
storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl of a city that's up to 10
feet below sea level in spots and dependent on a network of levees,
canals and pumps to keep dry. It's built between the half-mile-wide
Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, half the size of the state
of Rhode Island.
Estimates have been made of tens of thousands of deaths from flooding
that could overrun the levees and turn New Orleans into a 30-foot-deep
toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from refineries, and
waste from ruined septic systems.
At 5 p.m. EDT, Katrina's eye was about 150 miles south-southeast of
the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm was moving toward the
northwest at nearly 13 mph and was expected to turn toward the
north. A hurricane warning was in effect for the north-central Gulf
Coast from Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line.
Despite the dire predictions, a group of residents in a poor neighbor-
hood of central New Orleans sat on a porch with no car, no way out
and, surprisingly, no fear.
"We're not evacuating," said 57-year-old Julie Paul. "None of us have
any place to go. We're counting on the Superdome. That's our
The 70,000-seat Superdome, the home of football's Saints, opened at
daybreak Sunday, giving first priority to frail, elderly people on
walkers, some with oxygen tanks. They were told to bring enough food,
water and medicine to last up to five days. By afternoon, people with
bags of belongings lined up outside hoping to get in.
In the French Quarter, most bars that stayed open through the threat
of past hurricanes were boarded up and the few people on the streets
were battening down their businesses and getting out.
Sasha Gayer tried to get an Amtrak train out of town but couldn't. So
she walked back to the French Quarter, buying supplies on the way, and
then stopped at one of the few bars open on Bourbon Street.
"This is how you know it's a serious hurricane," she said. "You can't
find a slice of white bread in the city, but you can still buy beer."
Airport Holiday Inn manager Joyce Tillis spent the morning calling her
140 guests to tell them about the evacuation order. Tillis, who lives
inside the flood zone, also called her three daughters to tell them to
"If I'm stuck, I'm stuck," Tillis said. "I'd rather save my second
generation if I can."
But the evacuation was slow going. Highways in Louisiana and Mississippi
were jammed as people headed away from Katrina's expected
landfall. All lanes were limited to northbound traffic on Interstates
55 and 59, and westbound on I-10.
Evacuation orders were also posted all along the Mississippi coast,
and the area's casinos, built on barges, were closed.
Alabama officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying
coastal areas. Mobile Mayor Michael C. Dow said flooding could be
worse than the 9-foot surge that soaked downtown during Hurricane
Georges in 1998.
Residents of several barrier islands in the western Florida Panhandle
were urged to evacuate as Katrina pushed several inches of water onto
coastal roads and near homes.
Tourists stranded by the shutdown of New Orleans' Louis Armstrong
Airport and the lack of rental cars packed the lobbies of high-rise
hotels, which were exempt from the evacuation order to give people a
place for "vertical evacuation."
Tina and Bryan Steven, of Forest Lake, Minn., sat glumly on the
sidewalk outside their hotel in the French Quarter.
"We're choosing the best of two evils," said Bryan Steven. "It's
either be stuck in the hotel or stuck on the road. ... We'll make it
His wife, wearing a Bourbon Street T-shirt with a lewd message,
interjected: "I just don't want to die in this shirt."
Only three Category 5 hurricanes -- the highest on the Saffir-Simpson
scale -- have hit the United States since record-keeping began. The
last was 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which at 165 mph leveled parts of
South Florida, killed 43 people and caused $31 billion in damage.
New Orleans has not taken a major direct hit from a hurricane since
Betsy in 1965, when an 8- to 10-foot storm surge submerged parts of
the city in seven feet of water. Betsy, a Category 3 storm, was blamed
for 74 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
National Hurricane Center deputy director Ed Rappaport warned that
Katrina, already responsible for nine deaths in South Florida as a
mere Category 1, could be far worse for New Orleans.
"It would be the strongest we've had in recorded history there,"
Rappaport said. "We're hoping of course there'll be a slight tapering
off at least of the winds, but we can't plan on that. ... We're in for
some trouble here no matter what."
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Editors Note: Associated Press reporters Mary Foster, Adam Nossiter and
Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Attempts to reach someone I know in New
Orleans by telephone Sunday afternoon were met with either 'all
circuits are busy now' or 'emergency weather conditions prevent
completing your call at the time' announcements, depending on the
carrier used. I hope it won't turn out as bad as is predicted, but I
am certain there will be at least _some_ damage before it is done
with. I hope the people who will be housed in the Superdome take
along their cell phone and portable radios, _along with extra batteries_
for those devices. PAT]