Hurricane Katrina came on shore Monday morning as a Category 4 storm with winds topping 145 miles an hour. By day's end it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it left in its wake billions of dollars in destruction and at least 65 dead.
Though officials feared the hurricane might make a direct hit on the below-sea-level Gulf city of New Orleans, potentially destroying much of its historic downtown quarter, the storm passed just to the east and most of the flood-controlling embankments around the city held. Despite the turn, floodwaters spilled to the tops of houses in at least one neighborhood, where police plucked residents from rooftops and continued to frantically search for survivors threatened by the still-rising floodwaters, according to a report by The New York Times.
New Orleans' mayor reported on Tuesday that at least 80 percent of the city was under water — some of it 20 feet deep — including both of the cities' airports. At least 20 downtown buildings had been destroyed, according to estimates.
Though New Orleans appears to have been spared from a high death toll due to the evacuation of 80 percent of its residents, rescuers in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi continue to fight high water and strong winds as they attempted to find victims trapped in their homes. Governors of all three states ordered police and National Guard units to action amid reports of looting in New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi.
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In Gulfport, three of five local hospital emergency rooms were put out of commission by the storm and large stretches of the coastal highway were not passable due to flooding. "It came on Mississippi like a ton of bricks," Governor Haley Barbour said Monday. "It's a terrible storm."
Of the 65 reported deaths, at least 50 came from Harrison County in Mississippi, which includes the city of Gulfport as well as Biloxi, where 30 people died in an apartment complex. Both Louisiana and Mississippi were declared disaster areas, as 800,000 people remained without power in Louisiana as of Tuesday (August 30) morning and more than a million and a half were in the dark in the storm's wake.
Insurance officials began making estimates on the damage from Katrina, which could range anywhere from $9 to $20 billion, making it one of the most devastating storms on record behind 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which had $21 billion in insured losses.
As the storm was lashing New Orleans early Monday, news reports showed its effects on the New Orleans Superdome football stadium, where more than 10,000 evacuees took shelter under a roof that lost 15-foot sections to fierce winds. On Tuesday morning, the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that two of the levees protecting downtown from flood waters had been breached, sending 4 to 10 feet of water flooding over into the city. The breach in a levee on Lake Pontchartrain was reported by CNN to be close to 200-feet long, sending a surge so large into downtown New Orleans that the city's Charity Hospital evacuated 90 patients by air to avoid the wall of water.
Though oil refiners said the damage from the storm to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico was minimal, President Bush said Monday that he was considering the unusual move of tapping into the nation's strategic oil reserve to dampen temporary loss of production in the storm's wake.
Katrina began a path of destruction late last week as a Category 1 hurricane, hitting South Florida, where it claimed 11 lives before moving out over the Gulf of Mexico and gaining strength. Officials said the unusually large nature of the storm — which spawned three tornadoes in Georgia late Monday and was expected to dump several inches of rain across the Midwest and up the East Coast over the next 48 hours — was to blame for the huge area of devastation.
Assessing the damage could take days, if not weeks and, according to CNN, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making plans to house tens of thousands of victims for what could be several months. The American Red Cross was preparing to launch the biggest U.S. natural disaster relief operation in the organization's history as more than 75,000 people have already sought aid in 240 shelters across the storm-battered region.
To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV's hurricane relief page.