for National Geographic News
Hurricane Katrinaa nightmare of a hurricane with 140-mile-an-hour (225-kilometer-an-hour) winds and a storm surge nearly two stories tallcame ashore early this morning at the mouth of the Mississippi River near New Orleans.
Katrina is the hurricane that emergency-management and government officials have long feared would strike New Orleans. Many of the Louisiana city's 500,000 residents live below sea level and are surrounded by the waters of the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, and several bays.
"This is a biggie," said Steve Rinard, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "We've been dreading a storm like this."
Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents evacuated on Saturday and Sunday as the forecasts for Hurricane Katrina became more ominous. "All kinds of evacuations are going on, and shelters are filling up," Rinard said Sunday night. "There are shelters as far away as southeast Texas and all over central Louisiana."
A.J. Holloway, mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi, said Sunday night that most residents in the lowest-lying sections of his city of 55,000 had evacuated. "We don't know what to expect," Holloway said.
Category Four Storm
Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category Four storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which ranks hurricanes from one to five according to wind speeds and destructive potential.
A Category Four hurricane has winds from 131 to 155 miles an hour (211 to 249 kilometers an hour) and is capable of doing massive damage. The last Category Four hurricane to strike the U.S. was Hurricane Charley, which came ashore at Punta Gorda, Florida, in August 2004.
Hurricane Katrina began as a tropical depression just west of the Bahamas on August 23 and began slowly strengthening as it approached South Florida. The storm made landfall at Fort Lauderdale Thursday as a Category One hurricane with winds of about 80 miles an hour (129 kilometers an hour). Nine people in Florida died during the storm.
The storm made an unexpected jog southward as it crossed the Florida peninsula. Katrina emerged near the southwestern tip of the peninsula and began rapidly strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico.
Residents in the Florida Keys, which lie to the south of the peninsula, were caught off guard by Katrina's intensification.
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