If you’re still in Louisiana, Mississippi, or southern Alabama, you really need to stop reading this and go somewhere else now. Hurricane Katrina is set to be bigger than Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992. Update 9:45 pm: If you’re still in these areas, it’s probably too late to get out. Go seek shelter now.
With sustained winds of 175 miles per hour, Katrina is the fourth strongest hurricane in recorded history.
The edges of this thing are already beginning to pound coastal areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and will get worse as the night progresses. The eye of the storm is expected to make landfall early Monday morning.
The National Hurricane Center describes Category 5 hurricanes as:
Winds greater than 155 mph (135 kt or 249 km/hr). Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required. Only 3 Category Five Hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since records began: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille (1969), and Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane struck the Florida Keys with a minimum pressure of 892 mb’the lowest pressure ever observed in the United States. Hurricane Camille struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast causing a 25-foot storm surge, which inundated Pass Christian. Hurricane Andrew of 1992 made landfall over southern Miami-Dade County, Florida causing 26.5 billion dollars in losses’the costliest hurricane on record. In addition, Hurricane Gilbert of 1988 was a Category Five hurricane at peak intensity and is the strongest Atlantic tropical cyclone on record with a minimum pressure of 888 mb. — National Hurricane Center
At this time Katrina is moving directly toward New Orleans at about 12 miles per hour. The mayor has already ordered an evacuation, and opened ten shelters, including the Superdome, for residents who cannot evacuate. But that may not be enough.
“We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared,” Mayor 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. — Associated Press
New Orleans could be spared such catastrophic destruction if Katrina fails to make a predicted turn to the north. However, weather officials don’t believe this is likely.
This looks like it will be the big one for the Big Easy. Mark says it’s the storm of the decade, but if you’re in New Orleans, it’s the storm of the century. It makes Hurricane Betsy look like a midafternoon shower. Again, if you’re anywhere near the path of this thing, and still reading this, drop everything and go now.