Katrina, Now Category 4 Storm, Heads for New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina was upgraded to a Category 4 storm with winds of almost 145 mph (233 kph) that may get stronger as it heads across the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm's center was about 275 miles (442 kilometers) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the center said in an advisory issued about 4 a.m. New Orleans time. Katrina is moving west-northwest at 10 mph and is expected to turn to a more northeasterly track and make landfall near New Orleans late tomorrow morning or in the afternoon, the center said.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told CBS affiliate WWL-TV he may call the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans in the city's history, the station said today on its Web site. A storm surge of as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) is expected where Katrina makes landfall, the hurricane center said. New Orleans is 20 feet below sea level in some areas.
``Large and battering waves can be expected,'' the hurricane center said in its advisory. ``Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.''
Nagin told Eyewitness News his Saturday evening dinner was interrupted by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco who told him to call the hurricane center. Officials there recommended evacuating the city, he said.
Forecasters last night issued a hurricane warning for coastal areas from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border.
Blanco and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared states of emergency yesterday as mandatory and voluntary evacuations of low-lying coastal areas began. Both states said they will direct traffic on Interstates 55 and 59 from yesterday to head inland. Cable News Network showed live images of traffic jams on the highways as people left the coast.
A direct hit by Katrina would be devastating to New Orleans, a port in the Mississippi River delta that depends on a series of pumps and levees to keep the city dry.
``We, collectively, are among the world's foremost authorities on protecting ourselves from a major hurricane threat,'' Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard told residents at a briefing yesterday with Blanco. ``Remember what you've learned throughout the years in the greater New Orleans area in fighting hurricanes.''
Jefferson Parish includes some western and southern New Orleans suburbs.
New Orleans Mayor Nagin said he probably would call for the evacuation no later than this morning.
Hurricane-force winds now extend as far as 85 miles and tropical storm-force winds 185 miles from the storm's center. Category 4 hurricanes, the fourth step on the five-tier Saffir- Simpson scale, have top winds of 131 mph to 155 mph.
Katrina's winds are gusting to 170 mph, WWL-TV said.
The National Hurricane Center said Katrina's rains may begin falling in the central Gulf Coast by this evening. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected in the named areas within 24 hours
Additional strengthening is possible today, the center said.
Katrina is the 11th named storm this year and some forecasters suggest there will be more than 20 named storms this hurricane season, making it most active since 1993.
Oil touched a record $68 a barrel last week in New York on concern Katrina might disrupt supplies from the Gulf of Mexico. Prices fell Friday, when early forecasts of the storm's path had it missing most of the Gulf's production platforms.
The projected path has shifted west since then, making it a greater threat to oil and gas rigs, which are mostly off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe's second-biggest oil company, evacuated 465 offshore personnel as of Aug. 26 and was to remove another 554, according to the company's Web site. All of Shell's central and eastern Gulf of Mexico facilities were expected to be shut, affecting production of about 420,000 barrels of oil and 1.35 billion cubic feet of gas a day, the company said.
Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company, is evacuating workers and has shut daily production of about 3,000 barrels of oil and 50 million cubic feet of gas, spokeswoman Susan Reeves said.
BP Plc has evacuated rigs and platforms in the Gulf as a precaution, spokeswoman Ayana McIntosh-Lee said yesterday. Output hasn't been affected, she said.
Transocean Inc., the world's biggest offshore driller, is evacuating four semi-submersible rigs in the Gulf: the Transocean Amirante, the Falcon 100, the Transocean Marianas and the Deepwater Nautilus, spokesman Guy Cantwell said yesterday.
Two other semi-submersibles and two drill ships have disconnected from their wells and are moving out of the hurricane's path, and two more drill ships are disconnecting and may move if they need to, Cantwell said. The driller has evacuated 289 workers, and expects to evacuate another 193 by the end of the day, he said.
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the biggest U.S. oil import terminal, stopped unloading cargoes from tankers at noon New Orleans time yesterday, spokesman Mark Bugg said. The port's onshore facilities, where crude is stored and dispatched to pipelines, may be shut tomorrow, he said.
The port is about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast and handles about 1 million barrels of crude oil a day, or 11 percent of U.S. imports. It consists of mooring buoys, platforms and pipelines. Unloading of a tanker carrying west African crude oil was stopped earlier yesterday, Bugg said.
Katrina blasted southern Florida on Aug. 25 with rain and wind, leaving at least seven dead and cutting power to more than 1 million customers.
Early insurance estimates of the storm's damage in southern Florida were less than $1 billion.
About 1.45 million people lost power when the storm hit, Florida Power & Light said. Power was restored to about 635,000 customers, the company said in a statement yesterday. Restoration is expected to be completed in Palm Beach County late tonight. Work will continue around the clock in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the company said.
At least seven deaths have been blamed on Katrina, the American Red Cross said. Four deaths in Broward County were determined to be storm-related, county Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Judy Sarver said. A man was found dead in Florida City in Miami-Dade County, said Sergeant R. Dash of the Florida City Police Department.