Hurricane Katrina, bearing down on the Gulf Coast, became a Category 4 storm. It had swiped the tip of Florida four days earlier as a Category 1, and the warm Gulf waters incubated the storm into a monster as it swung west and then north. It became, at the time, the fourth most intense hurricane on record, and the third strongest to make landfall.
As huge and powerful as Katrina was, no one could have predicted the utter havoc it would create when, days after it passed through New Orleans, rising floodwaters breached the levees and inundated the city, causing hundreds of deaths and massive failure of infrastructure.
Below are the stories from seven years ago, dispatches from the Gulf as one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history unfolded.
At 11 p.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Katrina was about 105 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 170 miles south-southeast of New Orleans, moving toward the north-northwest at almost 10 mph. The storm was expected to turn to the north during the next 12 to 24 hours.
A Hurricane Warning was posted for the north central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, La., eastward to the Alabama-Florida border -- including the City of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. A Tropical Storm Warning and a Hurricane Watch were posted from east of the Alabama-Florida border to Destin, Fla., and from west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, La.
NHC Director Max Mayfield called Katrina "one of the most powerful hurricanes on record."
If New Orleans gets Katrina's full thrust, it could be the most devastating hurricane to hit the city since Betsy in September 1965. The storm surge could be 18 to 22 feet above normal levels, with coastal flooding to occur, the NHC said.
Forecasters said isolated tornadoes would be possible Sunday evening over southern parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and over the Florida panhandle.
Asked what his worst fears were, Barbour answered: "that there are a lot of dead people out there." At a press briefing, Barbour warned looters not to ply their trade.
Katrina came ashore in Louisiana early Monday and veered east, away from New Orleans and toward Biloxi, Miss., hurling debris, including rooftops and cars with its winds. Streets in Gulfport, Miss., were under 10 feet of water.
"This is a terrible, terrible storm," Barbour said, whether or not it would prove as deadly as Camille in 1969, which left 250 dead.
Barbour said he sympathizes with people who have been trapped by the storm, "for whatever reason," but cannot send rescue workers "out into 170 mph winds ... regardless of why those people need rescue." Barbour noted he had begged people to evacuate the area ahead of the storm.
The storm, which swept inland early Monday, tore holes in the roof of the Superdome where some 10,000 people had sought shelter.
Louisiana state Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Chalmette, said 12 feet of water inundated St. Bernard Parish, reaching to the second floor of many homes.
Spokesman Larry Ingargiola said shelters at Chalmette and St. Bernard high schools suffered major damage, WWL-TV reported. CNN reported the parish's 911 center was destroyed by the storm and the parish was mostly without power.
Homeland Security Chief Terry Ebbert said it may be a month before power is fully restored.
City Councilman Oliver Thomas reported receiving 120 distress calls from people trapped by the storm but crews were unable to get to them while the winds raged.
An apartment building in Terrytown collapsed -- one of a number of structures that failed in the storm's onslaught.
WWL-TV reported patients huddling in the halls of Charity Hospital, where windows were blown out on the fourth floor.
NBC said the hurricane's 145 mph sustained winds ripped two 7-foot-by-7-foot vents off the Superdome's roof, creating gaping holes. Numerous other holes dotted the dome.
The Louisiana National Guard began moving people into ancillary areas and officials said they did not expect the building to fail.
The Mississippi River was reported to have risen 15 feet since Sunday night.
Trees were uprooted and aluminum siding was peeled off houses in Baton Rouge, Lacombe and elsewhere.
The declaration, issued as Air Force One was heading from Texas to Arizona, authorizes the use of federal funds for response and recovery efforts in the two Gulf Coast states, where thousands of homes were flooded or destroyed by the hurricane.
Katrina also caused extensive damage in southern Florida where the much-weaker storm caused flooding and knocked out electrical power to nearly 1.5 million people Thursday.
"Our Gulf Coast is getting hit and hit hard," Bush said. "I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes. I want to thank the governors of the affected regions for mobilizing assets prior to the arrival of the storm to help citizens avoid this devastating storm."
The federal disaster declaration clears the way for emergency grants for temporary housing, home repair and low-interest loans.
A breach in the 17th Street Canal levee Monday widened sending salt water into Lakeview, Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentily, City Park and other neighborhoods, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
Flooding was reported downtown and covered some 80 percent of the "Big Easy" as pumps failed. Rescuers plucked people from rooftops by boat. The newspaper was forced to evacuate its building Tuesday morning but vowed to continue to publish an online edition.
With no electricity, sanitation or fresh water, citizens were not being allowed to enter New Orleans. Both airports were under water and power could be out four to six weeks, Mayor Ray Nagin told WWL-TV. Nagin said bodies were floating in the water.
The Southern Yacht Club burned to the ground because firefighters were unable to get to the building surrounded by floodwater.
WWL-TV, New Orleans, which evacuated its studios earlier, reported airlifts of sandbags had been ordered as water flooded along the city's landmark Canal Street. No one but emergency personnel was being allowed into the city, whose two airports were under water. Looting was reported.
Mayor Ray Nagin said bodies have been seen floating in floodwaters, although neither city nor Louisiana state officials had issued a preliminary death toll.
Nagin said the city's Twin Span Bridge is "totally destroyed" and that 80 percent of the city is underwater. New Orleans is 6 feet below sea level, and reliant on levees to hold back water from Lake Ponchartrain.
He also predicted there would be no electricity in the city for four to six weeks. Natural gas leaks were also reported throughout the city, CNN reported.
Breaches in two levees allowed water from Lake Pontchartrain to inundate 80 percent of the city that thought it had escaped the worst of Hurricane Katrina. Canal Street, the city's main street, was under water and roving bands of looters smashed storefronts in the presence of overwhelmed police officers despite a declaration of martial law.
A break in a 50-inch water main and power outages left the city without drinking water. Thousands of homeless headed to the Superdome, the shelter of last resort.
"We're going to try to get those people relocated as soon as we possibly can get a plan together," Blanco told an afternoon news conference.
"A lot of people lost their lives, and we still don't have any idea, because the focus continues to be on rescuing those who have survived."
Federal emergency management officials said the agency will have to feed and house tens of thousands of people for months.
It could be weeks before electricity and running water are restored to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and flooding after the collapse of two levees protecting a city that is 6 feet below sea level.
The failure of backup generators prompted at least three New Orleans hospitals to close amid fresh deaths and injuries, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Charity Hospital and Baptist Hospital may never reopen because of damage, the newspaper said. Tulane University Medical Center transferred remaining patients saying its emergency generator was under water.
Thousands of patients were being moved to hospitals outside New Orleans.
The hurricane also knocked out the main 50-inch pipeline supplying water to the city. Officials worried the storm's aftermath could lead to outbreaks of disease and encounters with deadly snakes and other wildlife.
More than 23,000 survivors were expected to be relocated from New Orleans' Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston.
"This recovery will take a long time," President Bush said Wednesday after flying over the devastated Gulf Coast on his way back to the White House from a vacation at his Texas ranch. "This recovery will take years."
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the full range of federal resources was being deployed to help hurricane victims.
"We will ensure that citizens in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina have the sustained support and aid necessary to recover and reclaim their homes and communities," Chertoff told a Washington news conference.
The Category 4 storm may be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt declared a public health emergency on the entire Gulf Coast where lack of electricity, food and clean water forced New Orleans hospitals to close their doors.
Leavitt said the government would set up a network of 40 medical shelters with 10,000 beds, staffed by 4,000 qualified medical personnel. At least 39 Federal Emergency Medical Administration medical assistance teams were moving into the devastated areas.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used heavy-lift military helicopters to drop giant sandbags into holes in the flood barriers caused by Hurricane Katrina. Once enough water can be pumped out, trucks full of rock will be brought in to reinforce the emergency repairs, USA Today said.
The need is to repair breaks in flood barriers along two drainage canals and a massive navigational canal that cut through New Orleans, which is 6 feet below sea level.
Engineers reportedly warned often of the vulnerability if New Orleans'levees and floodwalls were ever hit by a Category 4 hurricane like Katrina. It was "a likely scenario" for danger, one expert said.
Despite warnings, when time came to find money to strengthen the levees and other flood guards, the city's defenses ended up far down the federal government's infrastructure priority list.
A Web site for WWL-TV, New Orleans, had a posting that said: "What's frightening is that city leaders cannot give a concrete answer regarding the time it will take to rescue people from their roofs and get them to safety."
A station reporter also posted a message saying: "Stories of armed, roving gangs going around town looting every business they come across have been exaggerated by the national media."
Water as deep as 20 feet after Hurricane Katrina came ashore Monday began to recede, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrestled with levee damage.
Maj. Gen. Dan Riley, estimated the floodwaters had receded by as much as 2 feet overnight and would continue to flow out of the city at a rate of about a half-inch per hour, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported.
At least four breaches in levees surrounding the saucer-shaped city occurred after the storm.
CNN reporters described thousands of people huddled on the streets around the Convention Center without food, water, sanitary facilities or medical care. Bodies covered with sheets were simply pushed to one side and piles of feces littered the area.
In nearby Metairie, La., a National Guard unit searching for people stranded by the flood said there was no time to worry about floating bodies.
"We have to deal with the living," he said.
In the Metairie area, a reporter found an elderly woman who said her neighbors should be rescued first, because they have small children. Emergency workers found 15 people stranded in one small house.
Both the hurricane survivors and emergency workers in New Orleans appear confused. One family interviewed on National Public Radio said that they were told to go to the Superdome, then they were told to cross the Superdome to get a bus to take them to Texas and then they were told they could not enter the Superdome and told to go home.
The devastated city, its levees breached, remained mostly underwater and without power or drinking water five days after Hurricane Katrina roared through.
As flatbed trucks unloaded pallets of supplies, soldiers moved to restore calm among throngs camped out near the city's convention center and on highway overpasses. Troops handing out food and water were both praised as heroes and criticized about their delayed arrival, the Los Angeles Times said.
"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here," welcomed Leschia Radford, who spent hellish nights inside the tomb-like convention center, where corpses lay in sheets and some evacuees were raped and beaten.
But, Walter Favoroth, 49, who treaded water for 18 hours before he was hauled into a boat, said, They waited too long. Every day they waited -- every hour -- more people died."
The new figures suggest that Hurricane Katrina will cost the insurance industry more than any other natural disaster on record, the New York Times said Saturday.
In making its estimate, Risk Management Solutions in Newark, Calif., said that private insurance probably would cover less than a quarter of that, with federal money and charitable contributions possibly handling the rest.
Company forecasters said that insured losses would range from $20 billion to $35 billion.
But there is far more that commercial insurers likely will not absorb, such as damage to roads, highways, utilities and public buildings, as well as the cost of government relief efforts. There is also the huge cost of not doing business, which the firm estimated at $100 million a day.
Katrina's price tag is expected to pass Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which cost $21 billion in 2004 dollars.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the three states hardest hit by the storm, about 4.9 million people -- or about 41 percent of the population -- live in coastal areas.
About 3.2 million people lived within the imminent or occurring flood area -- with 1.7 million in southeast Louisiana; 940,000 in southern Mississippi; and 420,000 in southwest Alabama.
Cities hit by flooding along the Gulf include Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi, Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans.
Mississippi has been the largest land area affect by the massive storm.
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