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Hurricane Center director warns New Orleans: This is really scary

By Mark Schleifstein
Times-Picayune Staff Writer

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Saturday afternoon that Hurricane Katrina will be at least a Category 4, with winds of 145 mph when it approaches the New Orleans area, and that it could be a Category 5, with winds of 155 mph or higher.

Meanwhile, computer model runs conducted by a team of Louisiana State University scientists indicate that even if Katrina had winds of only 115 mph, levees protecting Kenner, Metairie and New Orleans on the east bank will be overtopped by a 10- to 12-foot storm surge, topped by waves at least half that high, in some locations along Lake Pontchartrain.

"The guidance we get and common sense and experience suggests this storm is not done strengthening," Mayfield said in a telephone call from Miami-Dade County, which was hit by a Category 1 Katrina earlier in the week.

"This is really scary," he said. "This is not a test, as your governor said earlier today. This is the real thing."

Mayfield warned residents intent on not leaving in advance of Katrina to learn from the storm's effects in south Florida.

"We think this was a solid Category 1 when it made landfall here," he said. "But we had windows in new homes that blew in when they were designed for 145 mph winds."

Mayfield also warned people not to focus on the eye of the storm, as atmospheric conditions are perfect for Katrina's intensity to stretch far to the east and west of its eye.

"This thing is like Hurricane Opal," he said, referring to a huge 1995 hurricane that hit the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 storm. "We're seeing 12-foot seas along the Louisiana coast already."

Ivor van Heerden, a scientist at the LSU Hurricane Center, said he's also concerned that the waves atop the surge in Lake Pontchartrain could weaken levees and cause additional overtopping.

"The bottom line is this is a worst-case scenario and everybody needs to recognize it," he said. "You can always rebuild your house, but you can never regain a life. And there's no point risking your life and the lives of your children."

St. Tammany issues evacuation order

St. Tammany Parish has issued an evacuation order - with residents asked to leave by noon Sunday. This especially applies to residents south of Interstate 12.

The announcement specifically singled out the low-lying areas southeastern St. Tammany Parish including Treasure Isle, the Rigolets, Palm Lake, Northshore Beach, Coin du Lestin and the southern areas of Lacombe.

The parish will open two shelters at the following locations at noon tomorrow:

Creekside Junior High, 65434, Hwy 41, Pearl River

William Pitcher Junior High, 415 S., Jefferson, Covington

St. Tammany Schools will be closed Monday, officials said.

“The path of Hurricane Katrina is uncertain and as of this afternoon, the probabilities of a strike in our area are increasing. Therefore, I urge citizens to make storm preparations today,” said Parish President Kevin Davis. “I also ask that you check with your neighbors, especially senior citizens, to see if they need help preparing for the storm. This is a time to pull together as a community.”

Davis earlier declared a State of Emergency for St. Tammany Parish, allowing parish government to allocate assets in the interest of public safety.


Special-needs Shelter Contacts Provided

The state has opened two medical needs shelters in the state, one in Alexandria (800-841-5778) and one in Monroe (866-280-7287). Superdome will be opened as a refuge of last resort for special needs patients if it becomes necessary. New Orleans residents can call 504-658-2500 for shelter information.

People seeking access to a special needs shelter must call in advance to gain admission. The state may open additional shelters in other cities if necessary. The state provided a set of phone numbers for residents in the following regions:

Alexandria: 800-841-5778
Shreveport: 800-841-5776
Baton Rouge: 800-349-1372
Monroe: 866-280-7287
Houma/Thibodaux: 800-228-9409
Slidell/Hammond: 866-280-7724
Lafayette: 800-901-3210
Lake Charles: 866-280-2711

Tulane cancels athletic events, sets closing

Tulane Athletics has cancelled all of its events for Sunday and Monday due to the threat of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent closing of Tulane University beginning Saturday at 5 p.m.

Broussard outlines evacuation routes

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Brousard advised parish residents on taking four routes to take out of town during a midday news conference Saturday, as state officials said the hurricane threat may prompt them to activate a contraflow plan beginning at 4 p.m.

Broussard identified four "zones" in Jefferson Parish, two on the west bank and two on the east bank, and suggested evacuation routes for residents of the areas. Identifying one zone as the west bank east of the Harvey Canal, Broussard said residents should cross the Crescent City Connection, travel Interstate 10 east to Slidell, then north on Interstate 59.

Those living west of the Harvey Canal on the west bank should take the West Bank Expressway west to U.S. 90, cross the Interstate 310 bridge at Luling, then evacuate west on Airline Highway to Baton Rouge and beyond, he said.
On the parish's east bank, people living east of Causeway Boulevard should take the causeway bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, travel west on Interstate 12, then drive north on Interstate 55.

Residents in a fourth zone, living west of Causeway Boulevard, should travel Intestate 10 west, then take I-55 north or continue west on Airline Highway or I-10, Broussard said.

Jefferson Parish public schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Algiers Kickoff Classic cancelled.

The Algiers Kickoff Classic at Behrman tonight has been cancelled.

Highway Advisories Offered

For up-to-date traffic information and recommendations on evacuation routes, visit the Louisiana State Police website at www.lsp.org. State police asked that residents use the website instead of calling by phone whenever possible.

St. Tammany declares emergency, passes out sandbags

St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis has declared a State of Emergency for St. Tammany Parish, allowing parish government to allocate assets in the interest of public safety.

The St. Tammany Parish Emergency Operations Center is on full activation. No shelters are open at this time. If an evacuation is called, St. Tammany residents can call 898-2323 for shelter information.

St. Tammany Parish has opened five sandbag stations at the following locations at noon today in preparation for Hurricane Katrina:

(click link below for further information)
Covington Barn, 1305 N. Florida St., Covington

Keller Barn, 63131 Fish Hatchery Rd., Lacombe

Koop Drive, 21411 Koop Drive, Mandeville (under Tammany Trace water tower)

Airport Road Barn, 34783 Grantham College Rd., Slidell

Fritchie Barn, 63119 Hwy 1090, Pearl River

“Because the path of Hurricane Katrina is unclear, we are making storm preparations,” said Parish President Kevin Davis.

“Residents should refrain from putting out garbage for pick up during the storm. Lids from garbage cans can quickly clog storm-water drains. I am also asking residents fuel cars and to help neighbors who may be unable to secure items in their yards.” “Now is a great time to be a good neighbor,” said Davis

Contractors are asked to monitor the storm closely and secure any and all construction materials before storm force winds approach the parish.

Bridge tolls suspended

Tolls have been suspended on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway and on the Crescent City Connection, state Department of Transportation and Development officials said. The department may close ferries and bridges Sunday if the area begins to experience high winds.


Mayor Urges Storm Preparations

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, in a joint afternoon news conference with Gov. Kathleen Blanco, warned residents to take Katrina seriously. Hoping for yet another near miss could be deadly, he said.
“This is not a test. This is the real deal,” Nagin said. “Things could change, but as of right now, New Orleans is definitely the target for this hurricane.”
The mayor said he would stick with the state’s evacuation plan and not officially call for residents to leave until 30 hours before expected landfall, allowing residents in low-lying surrounding areas to leave first. But he recommended residents in low-lying areas of the city, such as Algiers and the 9th Ward, get a heard start.
“We want you to take this a little more seriously and start moving — right now, as a matter of fact,” Nagin said.
Entergy officials said the company has geared up for disaster with about 7,500 line repair workers and tree-trimmers ready to mobilize. It’s impossible to say how long power could be out if the city gets a direct hit, but other cities have had outages lasting more than month.
Nagin said the city would open the Superdome as a shelter of last resort for evacuees with special needs. He advised anyone planning to stay there to bring there own food, drinks and other comforts such as folding chairs, as if planning to go camping.
“No weapons, no large items, and bring small quanties of food for three or four days, to be safe,” he said.
Police Chief Eddie Compass said he and Nagin will likely call a curfew at some point, and would station police officers at shopping centers to prevent looting.
“Looters will be dealt with severly and harshly and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Blanco's State of Emergency letter to President Bush

BATON ROUGE-Today Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco forwarded a letter to President Bush requesting that he declare an emergency for the State of
Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina. The full text of the letter follows:

(click link below to read full letter)
August 27, 2005

The President
The White House
Washington, D. C.

Through:
Regional Director
FEMA Region VI
800 North Loop 288
Denton, Texas 76209

Dear Mr. President:


Under the provisions of Section 501 (a) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster
Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act),
and implemented by 44 CFR § 206.35, I request that you declare an emergency
for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period
beginning August 26, 2005, and continuing. The affected areas are all the
southeastern parishes including the New Orleans Metropolitan area and the
mid state Interstate I-49 corridor and northern parishes along the I-20
corridor that are accepting the thousands of citizens evacuating from the
areas expecting to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

In response to the situation I have taken appropriate action under State
law and directed the execution of the State Emergency Plan on August 26,
2005 in accordance with Section 501 (a) of the Stafford Act. A State of
Emergency has been issued for the State in order to support the evacuations
of the coastal areas in accordance with our State Evacuation Plan and the
remainder of the state to support the State Special Needs and Sheltering
Plan.

Pursuant to 44 CFR § 206.35, I have determined that this incident is of
such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the
capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that
supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect
property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a
disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures,
direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP)
assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal.

Preliminary estimates of the types and amount of emergency assistance
needed under the Stafford Act, and emergency assistance from certain
Federal agencies under other statutory authorities are tabulated in
Enclosure A.

The following information is furnished on the nature and amount of State
and local resources that have been or will be used to alleviate the
conditions of this emergency:

. Department of Social Services (DSS): Opening (3) Special Need Shelters
(SNS) and establishing (3) on Standby.

. Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH): Opening (3) Shelters and
establishing (3) on Standby.

. Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (OHSEP): Providing
generators and support staff for SNS and Public Shelters.

. Louisiana State Police (LSP): Providing support for the phased evacuation
of the coastal areas.

. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (WLF): Supporting the
evacuation of the affected population and preparing for Search and Rescue
Missions.

. Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD):
Coordinating traffic flow and management of the evacuations routes with
local officials and the State of Mississippi.

The following information is furnished on efforts and resources of other
Federal agencies, which have been or will be used in responding to this
incident:

. FEMA ERT-A Team en-route.

I certify that for this emergency, the State and local governments will
assume all applicable non-Federal share of costs required by the Stafford
Act.

I request Direct Federal assistance for work and services to save lives and
protect property.

(a) List any reasons State and local government cannot perform or contract
for performance, (if applicable).

(b) Specify the type of assistance requested.

In accordance with 44 CFR § 206.208, the State of Louisiana agrees that it
will, with respect to Direct Federal assistance:

1. Provide without cost to the United States all lands, easement, and
rights-of-ways necessary to accomplish the approved work.

2. Hold and save the United States free from damages due to the requested
work, and shall indemnify the Federal Government against any claims arising
from such work;

3. Provide reimbursement to FEMA for the non-Federal share of the cost of
such work in accordance with the provisions of the FEMA-State Agreement; and

4. Assist the performing Federal agency in all support and local
jurisdictional matters.

In addition, I anticipate the need for debris removal, which poses an
immediate threat to lives, public health, and safety.

Pursuant to Sections 502 and 407 of the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5192 &
5173, the State agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the United States of
America for any claims arising from the removal of debris or wreckage for
this disaster. The State agrees that debris removal from public and private
property will not occur until the landowner signs an unconditional
authorization for the removal of debris.

I have designated Mr. Art Jones as the State Coordinating Officer for this
request. He will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in
damage assessments and may provide further information or justification on
my behalf.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Governor


NWS issues hurricane watch

The National Hurricane Center has declared a hurricane watch from east of Morgan City to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, meaning the area could see hurricane force winds within 36 hours.

At about noon Saturday, the storm was located 400 miles southeast of the coast as a category 3 hurricane, expected to build into a category 4 storm as it moves over warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, said Frank Revitte, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Slidell office. Weak upper atmospheric winds could also fuel the storm as it moves toward the coast, Rivette said.

“We do think there is going to be intensification,” he said.

The storm moved west at about 7 mph and was expected to take a gradual turn west-northwest through the early afternoon. Landfall is expected early Monday.

“Certainly we can’t predict exact landfall,” Rivette said. “But Southeast Louisiana certainly has a good chance of landfall or at least feeling the effects of Katrina. If it’s that intense, certainly you’d have very strong winds, well in excess of 100 m.p.h., and a storm surge that could be quite damaging ... There could be some topping of levees.”

Katrina Evacuation Directives

Plaquemines Parish has declared a mandatory evacuation. Officials were in the process of picking up special-needs residents at mid-day Saturday.
Jefferson Parish officials declared a voluntarily evacutation for most of the parish but a mandatory evacuation for the coastal areas of Grand isle, Crown Point, Lafitte and Barataria.
St. Bernard Parish has recommended all residents evacuate, though it likely will not declare a mandatory evacutation because the parish won’t offer shelters, said Emergency Management Director Larry Ingargiola.

Hurricane Prompts School Closures

St. Charles schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday and Jefferson Parish schools will close Monday, officials announced. New Orleans public schools will close on Monday if Mayor Ray Nagin orders an evacuation. “We’ll make decisions on the rest of the week based on the storm and the damage,” said spokeswoman Pat Bowers.
Tulane University will close at 5 p.m. today and encourage students to evacuate, including about 1,700 first-year students arriving from all around the world for a now-cancelled student orientation. Classes will resume Thursday. Employees must report Wednesday, officials said. Essential employees should contact their supervisor.

Some order Katrina evacuations

St. Charles Parish issued a mandatory evacuation at 9 a.m. Saturday as weather forecasters said southeast Louisiana could suffer a direct hit from the hurricane.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin encouraged Jefferson Parish officials to follow the state evacuation plan, which calls for low-lying coastal areas to evacuate first. Jefferson officials broke with the plan to call for an early evacuation for Hurricane Dennis in July. Nagin, in an interview with Channel 4 news, said all officials need to make quick decisions to handle the approaching storm.

“The problem with this storm is that it’s going to compress everything,” Nagin said. “We have a shorter window to deal with this storm and we’ve got to get people to start evacuating.”