Katrina could 'devastate' SE Louisiana coast

Hurricane Katrina is expected to be a "devastating Category 4 or 5 hurricane" when it hits southeastern Louisiana Monday. A mandatory evacuation has now been ordered in New Orleans.


"We are facing a storm that we feared."

—New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

Hurricane Katrina is expected to be a "devastating Category 4 or 5 hurricane" when it hits southeastern Louisiana Monday according to the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane strengthened to Category 5 status Sunday morning with 170 mph winds. The current forecasted track for the storm would take it across New Orleans.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation for the entire city Sunday morning.

"We are facing a storm that we feared," said Nagin in a press conference. "The storm surge will most likely topple our levee system."

Nagin said the Superdome will serve as a shelter of last refuge for those who do not have the means to leave the city. Nine other locations will serve as shelters as well. He added that the city alerted churches about helping check on senior citizens and others who will need help evacuating or getting to a shelter.

"Make sure you check on your neighbors," Nagin said. "This is an opportunity for New Orleans to come together like we never have before. I am sure we will get through this."

The city will also be running free transit buses to help residents get to the shelters of last refuge.

The Rev. Marshall Truehill Jr. of the New Orleans' First Baptist Church has been active in "Operation Brother's Keeper," a collaborative program formed to encourage evacuations in case of a major hurricane. Operation Brother's Keeper includes some 900 local religious congregations and the American Red Cross.

Truehill told WGNO-TV last week that one of his biggest concerns is the 145,000 city residents who are dependent on public transportation.

"The congregations are being asked to form partnerships with congregations outside the risk area so at least for a week or two we'll have somewhere to house people.

"We're trying to say to people," he told the station, "you have to be responsible for yourself, your family and your neighbors."

In anticipation of a possible landfall, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco both have declared states of emergency. In Louisiana, emergency officials have ordered mandatory evaculations early Sunday morning in Plaquemines, Saint Charles and Terebonne Parishes.

"This is a dangerous time," said Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. "There may be intense flooding. We have no reason to believe right now that (the hurricane) will alter its path."

New Orleans is extremely vulnerable to hurricane-induced floods because much of that city lies below sea level.

The south shore of Lake Pontchartrain - 40-miles wide from east to west, and 24 miles stretching north to south - forms the northern boundary of the city of New Orleans. A system of levees surrounds the city to hold back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south.

Since New Orleans sits lower than the lake, in a worst-case scenario, a severe hurricane could push floodwaters inside New Orleans as high as 20-30 feet, covering most homes and the first three or four stories of buildings in the city.

If that worst-case scenario occurs, Truehill predicts major problems. "People will die in New Orleans from drowning or from disease. . . in the aftermath," he said.

The last time Mississippi or Louisiana saw landfall from a storm classified as Category 4 or stronger was in August 1969, when Hurricane Camille roared ashore with winds in excess of 155 mph, killing 143 people.

The hurricane centerís five-day track shows Katrina also passing through Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

Six deaths were blamed on the stormís pass through south Florida, where it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday. About 850,000 customers were still without power by Saturday morning.

At least 50 homes had flood damage in Homestead, and 40 mobile homes were damaged in Broward County. Flooding in Homestead and other parts of Miami-Dade County appears to have hit apartment dwellers hard, ruining belongings that were uninsured. Damage assessments were ongoing, so these numbers could grow, particularly since the Florida Keys got inundated Friday with 15-20 inches of rain.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has requested federal assistance for Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Katrina is the second hurricane to hit Florida this year, following Hurricane Dennis, which struck the Panhandle.

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Related Links:

• Founded in 1992, TRAC provides southern LA disaster response: TRAC - Terrebonne Readiness Assistance Coalition


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