The storm is expected to hit land within 24 hours. New Orleans' 1.5-million residents are under a mandatory evacuation order with the possibility that this is the feared worst-case storm that has been talked about for years in that area. The city sits well under sea level and owes its existence to a series of levees that keep the waters of Lake Ponchertrain, the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico at bay. Huge storm surges exceeding 25 feet are expected to easily overwhelm the levees if the storm maintains its current course. Rainfall of as much as 15 inches will contribute to flooding in the historic city. Major wind damage will also ensue, all in all causing catastrophic damage unless the storm unexpectedly and immediately changes course.
For those unable to escape the city and travel inland, ten refuges of last resort, to include the Superdome, have been identified. Those heading to the Superdome have been instructed to bring enough food and supplies to last three to five days.
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said he spoke to a forecaster at the hurricane center who told him that "This is the storm New Orleans has feared these many years." Nagin, speaking to the city's residents on Saturday, said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test. This is the real deal. Board up your homes, make sure you have enough medicine, make sure the car has enough gas. Do all things you normally do for a hurricane but treat this one differently because it is pointed towards New Orleans."
At this point in time, major escape routes exiting the city are in gridlock. Reports have it that hotels are filled up as far away as Tennessee.
Only three Category 5 hurricanes have hit the US since record-keeping began, 150 years ago. The latest was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, causing $31B in damage in southern Florida and killing 43 people.
We add our prayers to the countless others going up for the people of the city and surrounding areas.
Link to page of 19 New Orleans Live Cams
Link to New Orleans radar
CBS Marketwatch: Katrina likely to send gasoline and natural gas prices sharply higher.