By ADAM NOSSITER, Associated Press Writer
Hurricane Katrina plowed into this below-sea-level city Monday with
shrieking, 145-mph winds and blinding rain that flooded homes to the
rooflines and peeled away part of the Superdome, where thousands of
people had taken shelter.
Katrina weakened overnight to a Category 4 storm and made a slight
turn to the right before hitting land at 6:10 a.m. CDT near the bayou
town of Buras. It passed just to the east of New Orleans as it moved
inland, sparing this vulnerable city its full fury.
But National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield warned that New
Orleans would be pounded throughout the day and that Katrina's
potential 15-foot storm surge, down from a feared 28 feet, was still
enough to cause extensive flooding.
"I'm not doing too good right now," Chris Robinson said via cellphone
from his home east of the city's downtown. "The water's rising pretty
fast. I got a hammer and an ax and a crowbar, but I'm holding off on
breaking through the roof until the last minute. Tell someone to come
get me please. I want to live."
On the south shore of Lake Ponchartrain, entire neighborhoods of
one-story, shotgun-style homes were flooded up to the rooflines. The
Interstate 10 off-ramps nearby looked like boat ramps amid the
whitecapped waves. Garbage cans and tires bobbed in the water.
Two people were stranded on the roof as murky water lapped at the
"Get us a boat!" a man in a black slicker shouted over the howling
Across the street, a woman leaned from the second-story window of a
brick home and shouted for assistance.
"There are three kids in here," the woman said. "Can you help us?"
Elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, the storm flung boats onto land in
Mississippi, lashed street lamps and flooded roads in Alabama, and
swamped highway bridges in the Florida Panhandle. At least a
half-million people were without power from Louisiana to Florida's
Panhandle, including 370,000 in southeastern Louisiana and 116,400 in
Alabama, mostly in the Mobile area.
At New Orleans' Superdome, home to 9,000 storm refugees, the wind
peeled pieces of metal from the golden roof, leaving two holes that
let water drip in. People inside were moved out of the way. Others
stayed and watched as sheets of metal flapped and rumbled loudly 19
stories above the floor.
Building manager Doug Thornton said the larger hole was 15 to 20 feet
long and four to five feet wide. Outside, one of the 10-foot, concrete
clock pylons set up around the Superdome blew over.
Elsewhere in the city, the storm shattered scores of windows in
high-rise office buildings and on five floors of the Charity Hospital,
forcing patients to be moved to lower levels. At the Windsor Court
Hotel, guests were told to go into the interior hallways with blankets
and pillows and to keep the doors to the rooms closed to avoid flying
In suburban Jefferson Parish, Sheriff Harry Lee said residents of a
building on the west bank of the Mississippi River called 911 to say
the building had collapsed and people might be trapped. He said
deputies were not immediately able to check out the building because
their vehicles were unable to reach the scene.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Katrina was centered 35 miles northeast of New
Orleans, moving to the north at 16 mph. The storm's winds dropped to
125 mph -- a Category 3 storm -- as it pushed inland, threatening the
Gulf Coast and the Tennessee Valley with as much as 15 inches of rain
over the next couple of days and up to 8 inches in the
drought-stricken Ohio Valley and eastern Great Lakes.
Katrina was a terrifying, 175-mph Category 5 behemoth -- the most powerful
category on the scale -- before weakening.
By midday, the brunt of the storm had moved beyond New Orleans to
Mississippi's coast, home to the state's floating casinos, where
Katrina recorded a 22-foot storm surge and washed sailboats onto a
coastal four-lane highway.
Trees were blown across streets and onto houses, utility poles dangled
in the wind and billboards were shredded. Windows of a major hospital
were blown and the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino, one of the premier
gambling spots in Biloxi, had water on the first floor.
Katrina was the most powerful storm to affect Mississippi since
Hurricane Camille came in as a Category 5 in 1969, killing 143 people
along the Gulf Coast.
"This is a devastating hit -- we've got boats that have gone into
buildings," Gulfport, Miss., Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said as he
maneuvered around downed trees in the city. "What you're looking at is
In New Orleans' historic French Quarter of Napoleonic-era buildings
with wrought-iron balconies, water pooled in the streets from the
driving rain, but the area appeared to have escaped the catastrophic
flooding that forecasters had predicted.
On Jackson Square, two massive oak trees outside the 278-year-old
St. Louis Cathedral came out by the roots, ripping out a 30-foot
section of ornamental iron fence and straddling a marble statue of
Jesus Christ, snapping off only the thumb and forefinger of his
At the hotel Le Richelieu, the winds blew open sets of balcony French
doors shortly after dawn. Seventy-three-year-old Josephine Elow of New
Orleans pressed her weight against the broken doors as a hotel
employee tried to secure them.
"It's not life-threatening," Mrs. Elow said as rain water dripped from
her face. "God's got our back."
Elow's daughter, Darcel Elow, was awakened before dawn by a
high-pitched howling that sounded like a trumpeting elephant. "I
thought it was the horn to tell everybody to leave out the hotel," she
said as she walked the hall in her nightgown.
For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare scenario a big
storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl of a city that is up to 10
feet below sea level in spots and relies on a network of levees,
canals and pumps to keep dry from the Mississippi River on one side,
Lake Pontchartrain on the other.
The fear was that flooding could overrun the levees and turn New
Orleans into a toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from
refineries, as well as waste from ruined septic systems.
The National Weather Service reported that a levee broke on the
Industrial Canal near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line, and 3 to 8
feet of flooding was possible. The Industrial Canal is a 5.5-mile
waterway that connects the Mississippi River to the Intracoastal
Crude oil futures spiked to more than $70 a barrel in Singapore for
the first time Monday as Katrina targeted an area crucial to the
country's energy infrastructure, but the price had slipped back to
$68.95 by midday in Europe. The storm already forced the shutdown of
an estimated 1 million barrels of refining capacity.
Calling it a once-in-a-lifetime storm, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had
ordered a mandatory evacuation over the weekend for the 480,000
residents of the vulnerable city, and he estimated about 80 percent
heeded the call.
The evacuation itself claimed lives. Three New Orleans nursing home
residents died Sunday after being taken by bus to a Baton Rouge
church. Officials said the cause was probably dehydration.
New Orleans has not taken a 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.
Katrina hit the southern tip of Florida as a much weaker storm
Thursday and was blamed for 11 deaths. It left miles of streets and
homes flooded and knocked out power to 1.45 million customers. It was
the sixth hurricane to hit Florida in just over a year.
Associated Press reporters Mary Foster, Holbrook Mohr, Brett Martel and
Allen G. Breed contributed to this report.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Most people have heard the expression
'TGIF' or 'Thank God its Friday'. Not as many folks are familiar with
another saying which is 'OHIM' which means 'Oh Hell, its Monday', and
like so many 'delightful' things in store for us (Chicago Fire, in
1871), this destruction of New Orleans began late Sunday night and
continued all day Monday. Some of the video on WWL-TV Monday afternoon
as things were 'quieting down' just a little was absolutely amazing,
including, but not limited to the _total looting_ of a Winn-Dixie
store. A very troubling scene, that one; and like the Chicago Fire
in 1871, where at one point firemen just tossed in the towel and said
they could do no more, WWL noted that the police department in New
Orleans at one point had to respond to calls for service by telling the
residents, "We will get to you when we can, try us again in two or
three hours". And if the poor people who made their way to the
SuperDome did not have enough misery in their lives, part of the roof
on that structure blew away as well. PAT]