For New Orleans a dangerously vulnerable city
because it sits mostly below sea level in a bowl-shaped
depression it was not the apocalyptic storm
forecasters had feared.
But it was plenty bad, in New Orleans and elsewhere
along the coast, where numerous people had to be rescued
from rooftops and attics as the floodwaters rose around
At least five deaths were blamed on Katrina
three people killed by falling trees in Mississippi
and two killed in a traffic accident in Alabama. And
an untold number of other people were feared dead
in flooded neighborhoods, many of which could not
be reached by rescuers because of high water.
"Some of them, it was their last night on Earth,"
Terry Ebbert, chief of homeland security for New Orleans,
said of people who ignored orders to evacuate the
city of 480,000 over the weekend. "That's a hard
way to learn a lesson."
"We pray that the loss of life is very limited,
but we fear that is not the case," Louisiana
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.
Katrina knocked out power to more than three-quarters
of a million people from Louisiana to the Florida's
Panhandle, and authorities said it could be two months
before electricity is restored to everyone. Ten major
hospitals in New Orleans were running on emergency
The federal government began rushing baby formula,
communications equipment, generators, water and ice
into hard-hit areas, along with doctors, nurses and
first-aid supplies. The Pentagon sent experts to help
with search-and-rescue operations.
As of Monday evening, Katrina was passing through
southeast Mississippi, moving north at 18 mph. It
had weakened into a mere Category 1 hurricane with
winds near 75 mph.
But it was far from done: Forecasters said that as
the storm moves north through the nation's midsection
over the next few days, it may spawn tornadoes over
the Southeast and swamp the Gulf Coast and the Tennessee
and Ohio Valleys with a potentially ruinous 8 inches
or more of rain.
Oil refiners said damage to their equipment in the
Gulf region appeared to be minimal, and oil prices
dropped back from the day's highs above $70 a barrel.
But the refiners were still assessing the damage,
and the Bush administration said it would consider
releasing oil from the nation's emergency stockpile
Katrina had menaced the Gulf Coast over the weekend
as a 175-mph, Category 5 monster, the most powerful
ranking on the scale. But it weakened to a Category
4 and made a slight right-hand turn just become it
came ashore around daybreak near the Louisiana bayou
town of Buras, passing just east of New Orleans on
a path that spared the Big Easy and its fabled
French Quarter from its full fury.
In nearby coastal St. Bernard Parish, Katrina's storm
surge swamped an estimated 40,000 homes. In a particularly
low-lying neighborhood on the south shore of Lake
Ponchartain, a levee along a canal gave way and forced
dozens of residents to flee or scramble to the roofs
when water rose to their gutters.
"I've never encountered anything like it in
my life. It just kept rising and rising and rising,"
said Bryan Vernon, who spent three hours on his roof,
screaming over howling winds for someone to save him
and his fiancee.
Across a street that had turned into a river bobbing
with garbage cans, trash and old tires, a woman leaned
from the second-story window of a brick home and pleaded
to be rescued.
"There are three kids in here," the woman
said. "Can you help us?"
Elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, Mississippi was subjected
to both Katrina's harshest winds and highest recorded
storm surges 22 feet. The storm pushed water
up to the second floor of homes, flooded floating
casinos, uprooted hundreds of trees and flung sailboats
across a highway.
"Let me tell you something, folks: I've been
out there. It's complete devastation," said Gulfport,
Miss., Fire Chief Pat Sullivan.
In Alabama, Katrina's arrival was marked by the flash
and crackle of exploding transformers. The hurricane
toppled huge oak branches on Mobile's waterfront and
broke apart an oil-drilling platform, sending a piece
slamming into a major bridge.
Muddy six-foot waves crashed into the eastern shore
of Mobile Bay, flooding stately, antebellum mansions
and littering them with oak branches.
"There are lots of homes through here worth
a million dollars. At least they were yesterday,"
said a shirtless Fred Wright. "I've been here
25 years, and this is the worst I've ever seen the
It was Katrina's second blow: The hurricane hit the
southern tip of Florida as a much weaker storm Thursday
and was blamed for 11 deaths. It was the sixth hurricane
to hit Florida in just over a year.
Calling it a once-in-a-lifetime storm, New Orleans
Mayor Ray Nagin had issued a mandatory evacuation
order as Katrina drew near. But the doomsday vision
of hurricane waters spilling over levees and swamping
the city in a toxic soup of refinery chemicals, sewage
and human bodies never materialized.
Forecasters said New Orleans which has not
been hit directly by a major storm since Category
3 Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965 got lucky
"The real important issue here is that when
it got to the metropolitan area, it was weaker,"
said National Hurricane Center deputy director Ed
Rappaport, who estimated the highest winds in New
Orleans were 100 mph. "They were fortunate in
that they were on the west side and the winds may
not have been quite strong enough to top the levees."
A 50-foot water main broke in New Orleans, making
it unsafe to drink the city's water without first
boiling it. And police made several arrests for looting.
At New Orleans' Superdome, home to 9,000 storm refugees,
the wind ripped pieces of metal from the roof, leaving
two holes that let water drip in. A power outage also
knocked out the air conditioning, and the storm refugees
sweltered in the heat.
Katrina also 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.
White curtains that had been sucked out of the shattered
windows of a hotel became tangled in treetops.
In the French Quarter, made up of Napoleonic-era
buildings with wrought-iron balconies, the damage
was relatively light.
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 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 pressed her weight against the broken
doors as a hotel employee tried to secure them.
"It's not life-threatening," she said as
rainwater dripped from her face. "God's got our
Associated Press reporters Mary Foster, Holbrook
Mohr, Brett Martel and Adam Nossiter and Jay Reeves
contributed to this report.