New Orleans Swims in Katrina's Wake The center of New Orleans has plenty of broken windows and flying debris, but it is largely empty of people, as Hurricane Katrina makes its way inland. The system came ashore as a Category Four storm Monday morning east of New Orleans.
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New Orleans Swims in Katrina's Wake

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New Orleans Swims in Katrina's Wake

New Orleans Swims in Katrina's Wake

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Katrina is no longer a hurricane, but its winds are still powerful, up to 65 miles an hour. Now a tropical storm, Katrina is making its way through Mississippi and Alabama, on its way to Tennessee. Katrina hit the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi earlier today. It came ashore a Category 4 hurricane with winds as strong as 145 miles per hour. Also, driving rains and a storm surge as high as 20 feet.

BLOCK: As of yet, there is no clear accounting of injuries and deaths from the storm. There are reports of tens of thousands of homes flooded in Louisiana and Mississippi. Electricity was knocked out across the Gulf Coast region, affecting at least half a million people.

SIEGEL: Mississippi bore the brunt of the storm, as it battered towns such as Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay Saint Louis. Governor Haley Barbour told reporters that Katrina remains a dangerous storm and the state is only in the first stage of assessing damages.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Mississippi): There is obviously major and widespread severe damage on the coast and in the southern tier counties. Despite the fact that we can't quantify it with specificity, we know from the wind damage, from the storm surge that that's the case.

BLOCK: At another press conference, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco told the thousands of residents who'd been evacuated that it is still too dangerous to return home.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): There are emergency service personnel working right now at this minute on search and rescue operations across southeast Louisiana. I have deployed boats into some of the areas where we have heard reports of people stranded on rooftops.

SIEGEL: We'll hear about damage in Biloxi, Mississippi, along the coast and about Katrina's impact on oil and gas prices. First to New Orleans, the largest city in the area which lies below sea level. Officials had feared the storm would bring potentially catastrophic floods to New Orleans. NPR's Greg Allen is there, and he reports on the day's events.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

City and parish officials in New Orleans are just beginning to evaluate how much damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on their city. There's flooding in many neighborhoods. Officials say as many as 40,000 homes were flooded in St. Bernard Parish alone. More than 20 buildings collapsed in the high winds, now estimated by the National Hurricane Center at 100 miles per hour in New Orleans. More than a half million people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are now without power.

Although Katrina made landfall in Louisiana at 6 AM, people in New Orleans felt her impact well before that. High winds stripped off part of the roof at the Superdome, which was serving as a shelter.

Elsewhere in the city high-rise hotels pressed into service as makeshift shelters also were damaged. The Hyatt Hotel lost more than 100 windows. In the Hilton overlooking the Mississippi River, people sleeping on the floor of an indoor tennis court say high winds ripped open skylights forcing them to flee.

A survey downtown shows nearly every building sustained damage from Katrina's winds. Windows are out, siding is missing. On New Orleans' Canal Street the stately palms that line the boulevard were blown down, blocking the road.

Despite that, the good news is that the extreme flooding feared from a storm surge didn't materialize here. Just before she hit land Katrina turned slightly east, a factor that may have eased the damage to the city. Because New Orleans is on average two feet below sea level, it was feared that an 20- to 30-foot storm surge could overtop levees, causing a citywide flood that might take days or weeks to recover from. At least one part of the levee did give way in St. Bernard Parish, but authorities say in a critical area along Lake Pontchartrain the levees largely did their job. Even so, Hurricane Katrina was still the worst storm to hit New Orleans in memory, worse, many residents say, than Hurricane Betsy which devastated the city in 1965.

A walk-through of the city's historic French Quarter showed nearly every building there had some damage. Windows and doors out, signs down; in some cases, display windows smashed and merchandise spilled out on the street. By early evening, as the rains stopped and storm winds diminished, people began emerging from their homes and shelters to get a look at Katrina's work. On Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, trees are down and debris litters the area, but historic St. Louis Cathedral and the surrounding buildings appear to be largely intact.

Elsewhere in the city, low-lying areas prone to flooding were hit hard by Katrina. Making matters worse, some of the city's pumps failed earlier today. Authorities say they're working to bring them back online as soon as possible.

Despite all that, among many in New Orleans the feeling is that it could have been a lot worse. It sounds strange to say that a city just hit by a Category 4 hurricane feels that it's lucky, but many say considering the flooding and damage the city might have faced, Hurricane Katrina may have let New Orleans off easy. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

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