Packing winds of 175 miles per hour, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in the Gulf of Mexico today causing severe damage to structures, broken levees, major flooding in countless neighborhoods and, according to one governor, likely “a lot of dead people.”
As of midday, Katrina swept through Mississippi, still buffeting areas with 105 mile-per-hour winds and leaving some 750,000 people without power, perhaps for as long as a month.
In Gulfport, Miss., authorities say about 10 feet of water is covering some city streets.
“Because the water is so deep, boats are floating up the street,” said CNN reporter Gary Tuchman. “There is extensive damage here. This is essentially right now like hell on earth.
“There is intense damage,” he continued. “We are watching the dismantling of a beautiful town.”
In Biloxi, there are reports of extensive damage to cars, homes and businesses, along with more flooding.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, clearly concerned about the damage and flooding occurring in his state, said grimly he believed “that there are a lot of dead people” around the state.
Meanwhile, as the hurricane continued to rage inland, the National Weather Service announced “extensive and life-threatening storm surge flooding” in Mississippi as well as neighboring Louisiana to the west and Alabama to the east.
In New Orleans, authorities reported that entire neighborhoods were now underwater, as after several pumps designed to keep excess water out of low-lying areas failed. As many as 100 people were trapped in or around their flooded homes, said police, who added they were trying to reach as many residents as possible.
New Orleans Homeland Security and Public Safety chief Terry Ebert estimated it could take as long as one month to restore power to everyone who has lost it in New Orleans.
And St. Bernard Parish spokesman Larry Ingargiola told local CBS television affiliate WWL the parish’s two shelters have been hit hard and suffered some major damage. An estimated 300 citizens are at both sites taking shelter.
Katrina, which now has been downgraded from a Category 4 storm, has caused a number of levees to break in New Orleans, leaving authorities left to deal with widespread flooding.
Mayor Ray Nagin said a number of pumps protecting low-lying parts of the city have failed, causing flooding of as much as eight feet in the Lower 9th Ward, on the east side. At the same time, the National Weather Service is reporting “total structural failure” in parts of metropolitan New Orleans.
The flooding has led to more than 100 calls to police from people who are trapped on rooftops and other areas. Authorities say they are working diligently to respond to the calls but the rising floodwaters are making the task much more difficult.
So far, about 1 million people have fled the area. The total cost of damage caused by Katrina has been estimated at $25 billion.
The storm has also damaged the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, home to the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints. While damage and water leakage so far is minimal, some analysts worry the structure could suffer further damage because it is not rated to withstand winds in excess of 120 miles per hour. That’s a problem, say officials, because the dome is currently housing some 12,000 of the area’s poor, homeless and frail.. The dome has a seating capacity of 77,000.
The storm has also caused its share of economic damage. Besides causing markets to open lower on Wall Street and abroad, Katrina has also led to record oil prices, which broke the $70-per-barrel level earlier in the day.
Particularly injurious to the U.S. oil industry is the fact that Katrina made her way through the Gulf of Mexico before striking the homeland. The gulf is where America derives more than one-third of its total oil supply.
Damage to oil rigs and the interruption in oil refinery production — now estimated at more than 1 million barrels per day — has led President Bush to consider releasing some oil from the nation’s strategic reserves, to offset the supply hiccup caused by the storm.
Bush has yet to make a decision, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Katrina was causing the kind of emergency the reserve — estimated at about 700 million barrels — was designed to abate.
“Obviously, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is there for emergency situations, and that would include natural disasters,” he told reporters. “But it’s just too early to know at this point.”