Katrina grows into a Category 5 storm with 260 km/h winds, and heads for the northern Gulf coast. Mayor Nagin orders a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans, but 10 shelters are also set up, including the Superdome, for those unable to leave. Evacuation orders are posted all along the Mississippi coast. Alabama Governor Bob Riley declares a state of emergency.
(DALLAS, AP) - Hurricane Katrina was upgraded to a Category 4 storm with winds of almost 145 mph (233 kmph) 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 310 miles (500 kilometers) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, forecasters said in an advisory issued about 1 a.m. New Orleans time. Katrina is moving west-northwest at 7 mph and is expected to turn to a more northerly track and make landfall near New Orleans late tonight or early tomorrow, the center 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. Forecasters last night issued a hurricane warning for coastal areas from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border, meaning hurricane conditions were expected in those regions within 24 hours.
The Governor's of both Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency yesterday as mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas began. Both states said they will direct traffic on Interstates 55 and 59 from yesterday to head inland.
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. Some neighborhoods lie as much as 20 feet below sea level.
"We, collectively, are among the world's foremost authorities on protecting ourselves from a major hurricane threat," Jefferson Parish President told residents at a briefing yesterday.