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New Orleans braces for monster storm

Crescent City under evacuation; hurricane may overwhelm levees

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans braced for a catastrophic blow from Hurricane Katrina overnight, as forecasters predicted the strong Category 4 storm could drive a wall of water over the city's levees.

The huge storm, packing 155 mph winds, is expected to hit the northern Gulf Coast in the next four hours and make landfall as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane Monday morning.

Hurricane-force winds were already being felt early Monday in some parts of the state. A gust of 101 mph was recorded at Southwest Pass, Louisiana, and one of 60 mph was measured in New Orleans early Monday.

The National Hurricane Center reported that conditions had begun deteriorating along the central and northeastern coast late Sunday night. (Watch video to see the worst case scenario)

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency Sunday and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. (Watch video of mayor's announcement)

"This is a threat that we've never faced before," Nagin said. "If we galvanize and gather around each other, I'm sure we will get through this."

He exempted essential federal, state, and local personnel; emergency and utility workers; transit workers; media; hotel workers; and patrons from the evacuation order.

About 1.3 million people live in New Orleans and its suburbs, and many began evacuating before sunrise. (Watch video to see who's staying and who's leaving)

Nagin estimated that nearly 1 million people had fled the city and its surrounding parishes by Sunday night. (Watch time lapse video of the evacuation)

Between 20,000 and 25,000 others who remained in the city lined up to take shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, lining up for what authorities warned would be an unpleasant day and a half at minimum.

City officials told stranded tourists to stay on third-floor levels or higher and away from windows.(See video from New Orleans, a city below sea level)

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that New Orleans could expect a complete loss of electricity and water services as well as intense flooding.

"We know we're going to have property damage," she told CNN's "Larry King Live." "We know we're going to have high wind damage. We're hoping we're not going to lose a lot of lives."

About 70 percent of New Orleans is below sea level, and is protected from the Mississippi River by a series of levees. (Full story)

Forecasters predicted the storm surge could reach 28 feet; the highest levees around New Orleans are 18 feet high.

Hurricane-force winds extend 105 miles from the center of the mammoth storm and tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 230 miles. It is the most powerful storm to menace the central Gulf Coast in decades.

Hurricane warnings are posted from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama-Florida state line, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. This means winds of at least 74 mph are expected in the warning area within the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect from the Alabama-Florida state line eastward to Destin, Florida, and from west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. A tropical storm warning is also in effect from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, west to Cameron, Louisiana, and from Destin, Florida, eastward to Indian Pass, Florida.

A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions, including winds of at least 39 mph, are expected within 24 hours. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible, usually within 36 hours.

Isolated tornadoes are also possible Sunday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency teams and other emergency teams were in place to move in as soon as the storm was over, FEMA Undersecretary Michael Brown said.

At 4 a.m. ET, Katrina was centered about 55 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 110 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. The storm had turned slightly and was moving to the north at about 12 mph.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said: "There's certainly a chance it can weaken a bit before it gets to the coast, but unfortunately this is so large and so powerful that it's a little bit like the difference between being run over by an 18-wheeler or a freight train. Neither prospect is good." (Watch Mayfield's assessment of Katrina)

Three deaths in New Orleans

Three residents of a New Orleans nursing home died Sunday while being evacuated to Baton Rouge, said Don Moreau, chief of operations for the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office.

The 23 residents were supposed to stay at a church, where one of the bodies was found. The other body was found on a school bus and a third person died at a hospital, Moreau said.

The others were found to be suffering from various forms of dehydration and exhaustion, he said.

Moreau did not know whether authorities would term the deaths storm-related. "These people are very fragile," he said. "When they're loaded up on a school bus and transported out of New Orleans ..."

One person died in similar circumstances during evacuations from Hurricane Ivan, he said.

Katrina is blamed for at least seven deaths in Florida, where it made landfall Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane. As much as 18 inches of rain fell in some areas, flooding streets and homes. (See video of the damage floodwaters left in one family's new house)

Oil prices rise

Crude oil futures topped $70 early Monday as Hurricane Katrina forced oil workers to evacuate rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and threatened New Orleans, a major U.S. tanker port.

The price of a barrel of crude soared in electronic trading in New York and on Asian markets, rising nearly $4 over Friday afternoon's close as the Category 5 storm churned toward the Big Easy, the hub for more than a quarter of U.S. oil production.

The city is home to an extensive petrochemical industry, including refineries that process more than 15 percent of U.S. crude imports, and its port handles much of the nation's oil transportation. An interruption in operations there could have "a significant impact on the cost of oil," Nagin said Sunday.

Bush issues disaster declarations

President Bush announced Sunday that he had issued disaster declarations for Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of southern Florida. The declaration for Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida will allow residents there to apply for federal disaster aid.

Jesse St. Amant, the emergency management chief for Louisiana's southernmost Plaquemines Parish, said nearly 95 percent of the parish's 27,000-plus residents had fled by Sunday afternoon. Those who remained were being told that they are "gambling with their own lives."

"I think they just don't believe something of this nature can ever happen in their lifespan, and I think they're going to be wrong," he said.

As far east as Mobile, Alabama, 118 miles away from New Orleans, authorities warned of storm surges approaching 20 feet.

"I'm afraid most people look at the map and say, 'It's going to New Orleans, we're all right,'" said Mobile Mayor Mike Deal. "We're in harm's way with the current path of this storm."

Category 5 is the most intense on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Only three Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since records were kept. Those were the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, 1969's Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the Miami area in 1992. Andrew remains the costliest U.S. hurricane on record, with $26.5 billion in losses.

Camille came ashore in Mississippi and killed 256 people.

CNN's John Zarrella contributed to this report.
I hope everyone there comes out alright

Crasher of Castles
7,016 Posts
yea, was watching it throughout school today. News reporter almost got crushed by a flying roof and screamed "i'm getting outta here!!!!, I'll be back in an hour!". I thought it was hilarious despite that i know how bad it is down there and i do feel sorry for them, but i don't feel sorry for stupid news reporters who stand in the middle of destructive forces of nature. Watch the guy in 'The Day After Tomorrow' get dominated by the billboard, thats about what i think of standing out in that crap just for the news.

Canadian Spaceman
8,767 Posts
Lots of news sites are now reporting that new orleans is basically gone. 80% of it is underwater. oO

Been here a long long time.
911 Posts
Well there are a few of reasons. The first being alot of people in the south have been through alot of hurricanes, and the media is always telling people to evacuate and then nothing happens so people lost money trying to leave. I.E. we spent 2,000 USD last year with all the hurricanes evacuating. Some don't have the money to leave, like the homeless, though if they really needed to they could. Another is people just don't think it's going to be that bad, trying to be hard asses or something. I've seen some people just sitting on their front porch drinking beer and waiting.

The ChinaDude!!!
3,930 Posts
For comparison, the way rescue operations are going... is even inferior to the time when the netherlands flooded in 1953. I've tried searching for any coordinated rescue operations... but i fail to find any. Heck, for the most powerfull and advanced country(if we believe what the president says), i think this is even substandard to african countries. Just my 2 cents

Been here a long long time.
911 Posts
It is pretty substandard. That's why alot of people are doing everything they can personally to help. There has been uprising in that area because of people especially kids not being taken care of. I would say though, it's mainly just taking the government along time to get everything in order. It doesn't help when there are people with sniper rifles killing rescue workers...
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