Officials, residents and tourists went into the evening hours Sunday in New Orleans and surrounding areas watching the skies. As rain began to fall and winds picked up, The Big Easy could be in line for a direct and catastrophic hit from Hurricane Katrina come overnight and into Monday.
The storm, packing 160 mph winds, is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane Monday morning. According to The National Hurricane Center, conditions are already deteriorating along the central and northeastern coast.
A statement from the National Weather Service in Slidell, near New Orleans, Louisiana, gave discouraging news that much of the affected area “will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer.” Low-rise, wood-frame buildings will be destroyed, and concrete apartment buildings “will sustain major damage,” the statement said. “High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously, a few to the point of total collapse,” the warning went on to say. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that New Orleans could expect a complete loss of electricity and water services as well as intense flooding.
Forecasters predicted the storm surge could reach 28 feet; the highest levees around New Orleans are 18 feet high.
Isolated tornadoes are also possible Sunday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
At 8 p.m. ET, Katrina was located some 130 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was moving to the northwest at about 11 mph.
Highways from Gulf coastal areas were jammed with last minute evacuees on Sunday morning as Katrina strengthened to a dangerous Category 5 storm with 175 mph sustained winds. Residents of New Orleans fled en masse, with northbound and westbound highways jammed and often even grid-locked with slow-moving traffic. One estimate said that more than 100,000 evacuees were ‘trapped’ in New Orleans and unable to depart.
Coastal residents in hurricane warning areas in the north-central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line boarded up, loaded up their cars and trucks and drove to what they hoped would be safer areas. Evacuees from New Orleans drove north across Lake Pontchartrain and west to Houston.
At 11 a.m. the National Hurricane Center in Miami put out a special advisory on the hurricane’s gain in strength. According to NHC the boost came just hours after Katrina reached Category 4, with winds of 175 mph, as it gathered energy from the Gulf of Mexico’s warm 90 degree water.
At 8 p.m. the center of Hurricane Katrina was near latitude 27.2 north, longitude 89.1 west, or about 130 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Katrina is moving toward the north-northwest near 11 mph and a turn to the north is expected over the next 24 hours. On this track the center of the hurricane will be near the northern Gulf coast early Monday. However, conditions are already beginning to deteriorate along portions of the central and northeastern Gulf coast and will continue to worsen through the night.
Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph with higher gusts. Katrina is a potentially catastrophic category five hurricane. Some fluctuations in strength are likely prior to landfall and Katrina is expected to make landfall at category four or five intensity. Winds affecting the upper floors of high-rise buildings will be significantly stronger than those near ground level.
Katrina is a large hurricane. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 230 miles. Sustained
tropical storm force winds are already occurring over the southeast Louisiana coast.
The NHC warned there could be coastal storm surge flooding of 15 to 22 feet above normal tide levels, locally as high as 25 feet along with large and dangerous battering waves to be expected near and to the east of where the center makes landfall.
It predicted rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches, are possible along the path of Katrina across the Gulf coast and the southeastern United States. Isolated tornadoes will be possible beginning Sunday evening over
southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and over the Florida Panhandle.
A tropical storm warning is also in effect from Destin Florida eastward to Indian Pass, Fla., and from Intracoastal City, La. westward to Cameron, La.
At 2 p.m. the center of Hurricane Katrina was near latitude 26.5 north, longitude 88.6 west or about 180 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Katrina is moving toward the northwest near 13 mph and a turn toward the north-northwest is expected over the next 24 hours.
Maximum sustained winds are near 175 mph with higher gusts. Katrina is a potentially catastrophic category five hurricane. Some fluctuations in strength are likely during the next 24 hours.
Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 205 miles.
Editor’s note: See Southeast and Texas/South Central News for related stories.
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