Katrina's Winds Remain Destructive Threat

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Hurricane Katrina has been downgraded slightly to a category 4 storm, but it remains one of the most powerful storms ever to approach the northern Gulf. At nearly 400 miles across, it's also one of the biggest.


As we've been reporting, Hurricane Katrina has hit land and is now working its way northeast along the Gulf Coast. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center continue to track its course. NPR's Christopher Joyce is at the center in Miami and he joins us now.

Chris, what are the forecasters there at the Hurricane Center saying about where the hurricane is headed? I mean, it has tacked, as Steve just pointed out, a little east.


It is moving sort of east-northeast and it's working its way into Mississippi at a rate of about 15 miles an hour. That's something less than--excuse me--the worst-case scenario that experts first feared, but still very dangerous and they're still emphasizing that people need to be very, very careful. And it's a very broad and extensive hurricane. Already they're measuring gusts in Pascagoula and Mississippi of 118 miles an hour.

MONTAGNE: There's been a lot of concern about a storm surge. What are they saying about that now?

JOYCE: They still expect to see serious storm surges. Now New Orleans may be lucky in that the surge may not be as bad as they had feared due to the eye moving to the east somewhat, but things could be bad in Mississippi and they're still saying that they could see 18 to 22 feet surges above normal. I mean, what's happening is that the wind is just pushing the Gulf up on the shore in a steady, slow way, not like a tsunami that we saw in the Indian Ocean but in a steady, resolute manner and they're warning people to be very careful about this because this is one of the things that's most dangerous.

MONTAGNE: At this hour, how long is the Hurricane Center--the experts there saying it will last? How far inland do they think that it is going to go?

JOYCE: Well, being as big as it is, extending 200 to 400 miles out, it could be well into the night before the hurricane starts to slow to a tropical storm level. And that would mean hurricane-force winds as far inland as central Mississippi and central Alabama. They're saying here perhaps even 150 miles inland hurricane winds. And then beyond that, Katrina's expected to bring heavy rain and storms for another day or so, possibly into Wednesday, and tornadoes, which they're quite concerned about. They're saying even heavy rains as far north as the Great Lakes from this storm.

MONTAGNE: And just quickly, there are offshore rigs there in the Gulf. What about them?

JOYCE: If past is prologue, they could be in big trouble. Hurricane Ivan went through here last year and damaged a lot of the rigs that provide a great deal of the oil for the US. And with wave heights now being measured at some 45 feet, it could be serious business.

MONTAGNE: Chris, thanks very much. Christopher Joyce speaking to us from Miami at the National Hurricane Center.

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