|"I just dont wanna die
in this T-shirt."
Hurricane Roars Toward New Orleans
By ALLEN G. BREED
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS — A monstrous
Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans on Sunday with
160-mph wind and a threat of a 28-foot storm surge, forcing a
mandatory evacuation of the below-sea-level city and prayers
for those who remained to face a doomsday scenario.
"Have God on your side, definitely have God on your
side," Nancy Noble said as she sat with her puppy and three
friends in six lanes of one-way traffic on gridlocked
Interstate 10. "It's very frightening."
A New Orleans
resident walks in the rain through Jackson Square in the
French Quarter on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005. A mandatory
evacuation has left the city nearly empty as Hurricane Katrina
bears down. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
into a Category 5 giant over the warm water of the Gulf of
Mexico, reaching top winds of 175 mph before weakening
slightly on a path to hit New Orleans around sunrise Monday.
That would make it the city's first direct hit in 40 years and
the most powerful storm ever to slam the city.
Forecasters warned that Mississippi and Alabama were
also in danger because Katrina was such a big storm — with
hurricane-force winds extending up to 105 miles from the
center. In addition to the winds, the storm packed the
potential for a surge of 18 to 28 feet, 30-foot waves and as
much as 15 inches of rain.
"The conditions have to be
absolutely perfect to have a hurricane become this strong,"
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield, noting that
Katrina may yet be more powerful than the last Category 5
storm, 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which at 165 mph leveled parts
of South Florida, killed 43 people and caused $31 billion in
"It's capable of causing catastrophic damage,"
Mayfield said. "Even well-built structures will have
tremendous damage. Of course, what we're really worried about
is the loss of lives."
By evening, the first squalls,
driving rains and lightning began hitting New Orleans. A grim
Mayor C. Ray Nagin earlier ordered the mandatory evacuation
for his city of 485,000 people, conceding Katrina's storm
surge pushing up the Mississippi River would swamp the city's
system of levees, flooding the bowl-shaped city and causing
potentially months of misery.
"We are facing a storm
that most of us have long feared," he said. "This is a
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.
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.
years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare flooding a big
storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl-shaped city bounded
by the half-mile-wide Mississippi River and massive Lake
Pontchartrain. As much as 10 feet below sea level in spots,
the city is as the mercy of a network of levees, canals and
pumps to keep dry.
Scientists predicted Katrina could
easily overtake that levee system, swamping the city under a
30-feet cesspool of toxic chemicals, human waste and even
coffins that could leave more than 1 million people homeless.
"All indications are that this is absolutely
worst-case scenario," Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the
Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, said Sunday
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard
said some who have ridden out previous storms in the New
Orleans area may not be so lucky this time.
expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard,"
Katrina was a Category 1 storm with 80-mph
wind when it hit South Florida with a soggy punch Thursday
that flooded neighborhoods and left nine people dead. It
reformed rapidly as it moved out over the warm waters of the
By 8 p.m. EDT, Katrina's eye was about
130 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi
River. The storm was moving toward the northwest at nearly 11
mph and was expected to turn toward the north. A hurricane
warning was in effect for the north-central Gulf Coast from
Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line.
the dire predictions, a group of residents in a poor
neighborhood of central New Orleans sat on a porch with no
car, no way out and, surprisingly, no fear.
evacuating," said 57-year-old Julie Paul. "None of us have any
place to go. We're counting on the Superdome. That's our
The 70,000-seat Superdome, the home of
football's Saints, opened at daybreak Sunday, giving first
priority to frail, elderly people on walkers, some with oxygen
tanks. They were told to bring enough food, water and medicine
to last up to five days.
"They told us not to stay in
our houses because it wasn't safe," said Victoria Young, 76,
who sat amid plastic bags and a metal walker. "It's not safe
anywhere when you're in the shape we're in."
nightfall, fitter residents seeking to get in lined up for
blocks in the pouring rain, clutching meager belongings and
In the French Quarter, most bars that
stayed open through the threat of past hurricanes were boarded
up and the few people on the streets were battening down their
businesses and getting out. But a few stragglers remained.
Tony Peterson leaned over a balcony above Bourbon
Street, festooned with gold, purple and green wreathes as
Katrina's first rains pelted his shaved head.
going to the Superdome and then I saw the two-mile line," the
42-year-old musician said. "I figure if I'm going to die, I'm
going to die with cold beer and my best buds."
Holiday Inn manager Joyce Tillis spent the morning calling her
140 guests to tell them about the evacuation order. Tillis,
who lives inside the flood zone, also called her three
daughters to tell them to get out.
"If I'm stuck, I'm
stuck," Tillis said. "I'd rather save my second generation if
But the evacuation was slow going. Highways in
Louisiana and Mississippi were jammed as people headed away
from Katrina's expected landfall. All lanes were limited to
northbound traffic on Interstates 55 and 59, and westbound on
"I'm expecting to come back to a slab," said
Robert Friday, who didn't bother boarding up his home in
suburban Slidell, La., before driving north to Mississippi.
"We may not be coming back to anything, but at least we'll be
Evacuation orders were also posted along
the Mississippi and Alabama coast, and in barrier islands of
the Florida Panhandle, where crashing waves swamped some
coastal roads. Mississippi's floating casinos packed up their
chips and closed.
New Orleans has not taken a major
direct hit from a hurricane since Betsy blasted the Gulf Coast
in 1965. Flood waters approached 20 feet in some areas,
fishing villages were flattened, and the storm surge left
almost half of New Orleans under water and 60,000 residents
homeless. Seventy-four people died in Louisiana, Mississippi
Tourists stranded by the shutdown of New
Orleans' Louis Armstrong Airport and the lack of rental cars
packed the lobbies of high-rise hotels, which were exempt from
the evacuation order to give people a place for "vertical
Tina and Bryan Steven, of Forest Lake,
Minn., sat glumly on the sidewalk outside their hotel in the
"We're choosing the best of two
evils," said Bryan Steven. "It's either be stuck in the hotel
or stuck on the road. ... We'll make it through it."
His wife, wearing a Bourbon Street T-shirt with a lewd
message, interjected: "I just don't want to die in this