Katrina Pummels Mississippi's Gulf Coast; Weakens Over Land
Bloomberg | August 29, 2005
Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Mississippi Gulf Coast with winds as high as 140 mph before weakening as it moved across the state and toward Tennessee. New Orleans was spared a direct hit.
The center of Katrina, now a Category 1 storm with winds of 75 mph, was about 30 miles (51 kilometers) northwest of Laurel, Mississippi, moving to the north at about 18 mph (29 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center at 4 p.m. local time. The storm, which pushed oil prices to a record, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands along the Gulf Coast.
Katrina moved through southern Mississippi on a path that will bring the storm into western Tennessee by tomorrow. The storm's surge caused flooding, trapped people in buildings and caused an unspecified amount of damage, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said today.
``This is the worst that's hit the New Orleans and Gulf area probably since Camille,'' Major Dalton Cunningham, Salvation Army Divisional Commander for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, said in an interview from Jackson, Mississippi. Camille killed 256 people when it hit the Gulf region in 1969.
An earlier projected path had Katrina directly striking New Orleans, some of which lies 20 feet below sea level. Officials and area residents -- millions of whom fled for higher ground -- had been concerned the storm would cause flooding that would overwhelm the city's system of levees and pumps. Katrina lashed the city with winds as high as 135 mph.
``It looks like a war zone, with tree branches down everywhere,'' John Hazard, 44, said today from the uptown New Orleans home of his brother-in-law Bill Hines.
The projected three-day path for the storm shows it crossing into Kentucky by 1 p.m. tomorrow and into the Great Lakes region a day later.
Areas of Harrison and Hancock counties, on the Gulf Coast, are under water, Barbour said. Water was reported as high as the second floor of the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, the Sun-Herald reported on its Web site. There are no casualty or property damage estimates yet and officials can't go rescue people trapped until the winds die down, Barbour said.
Inside the Superdome
New Orleans, just 100 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, has 500,000 residents within a metropolitan area of 1.3 million people, and depends on pumps and levees to keep dry. The hurricane center warned of storm-surge flooding in Louisiana of as much as 28 feet.
About 10,000 people sought shelter inside the Superdome football stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana State Police spokesman Kevin Cowan said in a telephone interview from Baton Rouge. The storm blew off two parts of the stadium's roof, each of about 2 feet by 6 feet, Social Services Department spokesman Irby Hornsby said.
``The structure of the roof is still there, it's probably just the stuff covering the structure that's peeled away,'' Hornsby said. ``I just hope that this is the worst of it.''
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, said county emergency coordinators have determined there are no structural problems with the roof.
Buildings collapsed in New Orleans and five floors of windows blew out of Charity hospital in the city, the Times- Picayune reported on its Web site. There is ``widespread'' flooding in Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, said Sergeant Kathy Flinchman, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Police Emergency Operations center in Baton Rouge.
`By No Means Over'
``Katrina is by no means over,'' Blanco said in a press conference. ``Stay safe. It's too dangerous to come home. The roads are flooded. The power is out. The phones are down and there is no food or water.''
Storm surges were estimated to be as high as 15 feet to 18 feet near New Orleans and 10 feet to 15 feet in Gulfport, Mississippi, Sisko said. As much as 12 inches of rain fell in southeastern Louisiana, he said.
``Now you're getting the reports about people who are stranded in parts of the cities, certain buildings that are collapsing, breaches in one part of our levee system, so it's just gathering all the information now and trying to make an assessment,'' U.S. Representative William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents New Orleans, said in a televised interview.
Entergy Corp. and Southern Co., owners of electric utilities along the Gulf Coast, said almost 1.1 million customers from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle were without power today.
As of 11:30 a.m. Central time, 742,500 customers in Louisiana lacked power, said David Caplan, spokesman for New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. Another 52,600 customers were without power along the Mississippi coast, he said.
Atlanta-based Southern had 188,264 customers without power at its Alabama Power unit -- mostly in Mobile -- at noon, according to spokeswoman Betsy Shearron. Another 82,509 customers in the Florida Panhandle lacked electric service, said John Hutchinson, a spokesman for Southern's Gulf Power unit based in Pensacola.
BellSouth Corp., the largest provider of local-telephone lines in nine southeastern states, said it lost 72,972 local- telephone lines after Katrina. BellSouth, the No. 3 U.S. local telephone provider, expects significant network damage along the Gulf coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, BellSouth spokeswoman Nadine Randall said in an e-mail statement today.
Katrina may rival the 1994 Northridge earthquake as the third most costly U.S. catastrophe, according to preliminary forecasts of insured losses.
The storm's estimated cost for insurers such as Allstate Corp. will probably be $9 billion to $16 billion, said Eqecat Inc., a storm modeler. Eqecat cut its estimate from as high as $30 billion as Katrina veered east of New Orleans, sparing the city a direct hit.
``People are breathing a sigh of relief that the storm has lost strength and that New Orleans appeared to be on the weak side of the storm,'' said Ray Stone, vice president of catastrophe operations at St. Paul Travelers Cos., the second- largest U.S. commercial insurer.
President George W. Bush today declared parts of Mississippi a major disaster area. He signed an emergency declaration for Louisiana yesterday, freeing up federal disaster aid.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said Bush will sign a disaster declaration for the region affected by Katrina, which will give FEMA the authority to help Louisiana recover from the storm.
Crude oil for October delivery rose $1.12, or 1.7 percent, to $67.25 a barrel at the 2:30 p.m. close of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier oil jumped as high as $70.80 a barrel, the biggest increase in 29 months. Natural gas, heating oil and gasoline climbed to all-time highs as well.
Investors are concerned Katrina will rupture pipelines, rip rigs from their moorings and disrupt production for weeks. Hurricane Ivan last September cut the region's oil output by as much as 80 percent.
The storm shut 1.4 million barrels of daily oil output, or 92 percent of normal Gulf production, according to today's report from the Minerals Management Service in Washington. It shut 8.3 billion cubic feet a day of gas production, or 83 percent of the total amount of gas produced in the Gulf.
Rigs Break Free
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today that Bush is prepared to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the U.S.'s emergency oil stockpile, to assist energy producers and refiners in the path of Katrina.
Transocean Inc., the world's largest offshore oil and natural-gas driller, said its semi-submersible Deepwater Nautilus rig broke free from its moorings in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of Katrina. Alabama officials today closed a bridge that spans the Mobile River after it was hit by a oil drilling platform that broke away from its moorings.
Disruptions to Gulf natural-gas production are being felt as far away as Detroit and New York state after El Paso Corp. and NiSource warned power plant operators, manufacturers and gas utilities to curtail gas consumption because of shortfalls in Gulf supplies.
The storm damaged some roofs of buildings at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Michoud facility in New Orleans, where the company assembles the external fuel tanks for space shuttles, spokesman Evan McCollum said in a telephone interview from the company's space operations headquarters in Colorado.
Moody's Investors Service said today it placed the ratings of Premier Entertainment Biloxi LLC on review for a possible cut because of the effect Katrina likely will have on the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi, the company's only casino asset, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter.
The Salvation Army can feed 400,000 people in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, Cunningham said. The organization has 72 food trucks and two 54-foot mobile kitchens that can serve 20,000 meals a day, he said. The Salvation Army will direct the kitchens where the Federal Emergency Management Agency says they must go, he said.
Katrina was earlier a maximum Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds as high as 175 mph. It would have been the most powerful hurricane heading for the U.S. since 1992's Andrew, which hit south Florida.
The storm swept through southern Florida last week as a minimal hurricane, killing at least nine people and cutting power to more than a million homes.
Tracy Watson, a botanist who lives in New Orleans, left the city yesterday to stay with friends in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The trip that normally takes her 11 hours took her 15, she said. Before leaving, Watson said she spent about three hours boarding up windows in her greenhouse to protect more than 100 plants and flowers, some of which she uses in her work.
``It's my garden and greenhouse I'm most worried about,'' Watson said in an interview. ``I have thousands of dollars in plant life back there. I've brought as much with me as I could but really, it could never be enough. Now I just wait, and hope.''