LIANE HANSEN, host:
Hurricane Katrina's winds are whistling toward Dixie today. Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center announced this morning that the storm's sustained winds reached 175 miles per hour making it a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina is over the Gulf of Mexico now, but forecasters predict the hurricane center will pass over New Orleans tomorrow morning. Mayor Ray Nagin this morning ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. Officials have also called for people to evacuate coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Long lines have formed at gas stations, and in some areas all lanes on the highways lead only north.
At the National Hurricane Center, forecasters said Katrina would raise a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet, and possibly higher, accompanied by rains of five to 10 inches, and as much as 15 inches in isolated areas. Eric Blake is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He joins us from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Thanks for your time.
Mr. ERIC BLAKE (National Weather Service): Good morning.
HANSEN: What's the latest with Hurricane Katrina? Where is it now? How strong? How big is it? How fast is it moving and where is it heading?
Mr. BLAKE: As you mentioned, the winds are now 175 miles per hour, an exceptionally strong hurricane. Very few hurricanes get this strong, and even fewer approach land. Right now it's about 225 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving between west-northwest and northwest around 12 miles per hour. We expect it to turn more to the northwest and north later on today. This is a very dangerous hurricane. It could have catastrophic consequences if it hits at this intensity.
HANSEN: How will the weather develop today in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast?
Mr. BLAKE: Well, some of the outer bands are starting to overspread New Orleans right now. Some of the winds could gust to tropical storm force before letting off just a bit before the main hurricane--the main part of the hurricane gets there as it approaches--as it approaches the mouth of the river later on. Overnight the weather will really begin to downgrade.
HANSEN: You said that the storm is wide. What are the parameters? From where to where do the forecasters anticipate that the wind and the rain will be most dangerous?
Mr. BLAKE: Well, we have a hurricane warning up from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. The hurricane-force winds go out over a hundred miles on the northeastern side, so that means if the hurricane were to make landfall in southeast Louisiana, places in Alabama could still see hurricane-force winds. So it's just a very big, large storm. Storm surge possible over 20 feet near and to the east of where the hurricane makes landfall.
HANSEN: And what will that heavy rain and substantial storm surge mean in that low coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico?
Mr. BLAKE: Well, it could be very deadly. If people haven't evacuated, it would--it has a high potential to cause a serious loss of life if people do not get out of the way of this hurricane. If you're in a low-lying area that's vulnerable to storm surge, the rainfall will just exacerbate this type of threat.
HANSEN: Is it shaping up to be a historic storm?
Mr. BLAKE: It very well could be. It's the most significant threat that this area has seen since Hurricane Camille in 1969.
HANSEN: Eric Blake is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He spoke with us from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Thank you so much for your time.
Mr. BLAKE: OK.
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