It appears early reports about how relatively lightly the Gulf Coast got off from Katrina were over-optimistic. The prior reported death toll was 65, including the 11 people who died when Katrina passed over Florida; it appears from reports this morning that more than 100 are now known dead in Mississippi alone, and that number is expected to triple by the time everyone is accounted for. 35 people swam out of a flooding Harrison County, Mississippi emergency operations center wearing life jackets, and haven't been seen since dead or alive. Much of the Mississippi coast is still unreachable by rescue workers. No hard numbers are coming out of New Orleans, but Senator Mary Landrieu is quoted as saying "at least 50 to 100 dead". Who knows how long it'll be before everything's sorted out in New Orleans, but there's reports of bodies floating in the streets (and some reports of sharks). The US Coastguard has rescued over 1,200 people stranded by floodwaters.
(Some official figure commented how terrible it was that rescuers weren't collecting bodies, they were just pushing them out of the way and looking for survivors, like this was a bad thing. DUH!!! You take care of the LIVING first! The dead are beyond help. The living can still be saved.)
And this was considered a Category 4 hurricane. When Katrina dropped to a Category 4, people said, "Oh, this is OK now, this isn't going to be anywhere near as bad as Camille." But there's stories from all over of structures that came through Camille undamaged, that Katrina has just obliterated. (To be fair, they were 35 years younger then.) And if the prospect out of Mississippi is even close to accurate, the final death toll in Mississippi alone will exceed the total deaths from Camille before even starting to add in the completely unknown number in New Orleans. (Alabama seems to have gotten off relatively lightly with only two known fatalities, but power is still out in much of the state.) The devout among you may wish to thank whatever higher powers you believe in that Katrina weakened Sunday night, instead of continuing to gain strength as predicted as it passed across the warmest waters in the Gulf and reaching shore as a Category 5-and-then-some.
...that scyllacat made it. She has been seen in New Orleans since the storm passed over.
Others weren't so lucky. 65 deaths have been attributed to Katrina, 54 of them in Mississippi (50 of them in Harrison County, 30 of those in a single apartment building that collapsed near Biloxi). There is extensive flooding in Mississippi and in New Orleans, with a 200-foot-long breach reported in the Lake Pontchartrain levee along the 17th Street Canal. 80 percent of New Orleans is reported as under as much as 20 feet of water, and 1.3 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are reported without power. Much of Mobile, Alabama was also flooded by the storm surge.
"The president was expected to authorize at least a loan of some oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly."
Seems things on the Gulf Coast have taken a big turn for the worse overnight. They're evacuating New Orleans. The 10am advisory is reporting sustained winds of 175mph, with gusts to 215mph, and eye barometric pressure down to 907 millibars, with hurricane-force winds out to 105nm from the storm center and tropical storm force out to 205nm. The eye diameter is 20nm. Katrina bears all the hallmarks of an annular hurricane, which -- if correct -- means it's likely to maintain full strength all the way to landfall.
(From Brendan Loy:)
Dr. Jeff Masters says Katrina is likely to strengthen even further. He says she is "in the midst of a truly historic rapid deepening phase--the pressure has dropped 34 mb in the 11 hours ending at 7am EDT," and he suggests that "at the rate Katrina is deepening, she could easily be the third or fourth most intense hurricane ever, later today." And even if the pressure doesn't fall any further, "The winds are likely to increase to 'catch up' to the rapidly falling pressure, and could approach the all-time record of 190 mph set in Camille and Allen. Winds of this level will create maximum storm surge heights over 25 feet, and this storm surge will affect an area at least double the area wiped clean by Camille, which was roughly half the size of Katrina. Katrina has continued to expand in size, and is now a huge hurricane like Ivan. Damage will be very widespread and extreme if Katrina can maintain Category 5 strength at landfall."
The storm surge "will most likely top our levee system," says New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin. NOAA has some storm surge simulations for a slow-moving Category 4 hurricane here -- and Katrina is already among the strongest of Category 5 hurricanes.