August 27, 2005

Hurricane Katrina aims for U.S. Gulf coast

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Hurricane Katrina bulked up in the Gulf
of Mexico on Saturday for a second and potentially more deadly
assault on the U.S. coast after killing seven people on its
trek across southern Florida.

Watches and warnings were posted for parts of the Louisiana
coast, including vulnerable low-lying New Orleans, alerting
residents to expect hurricane-force winds within 36 hours.

By 11 a.m. (15000 GMT) on Saturday, the hurricane was 405
miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with
winds near 115 mph (185 kph).

The storm was larger and more powerful than when it hit
Florida's southeast coast on Thursday and was expected to swing
gradually west-northwest, the National Hurricane Center in
Miami said.

The projected path could see it come ashore anywhere
between the storm-scarred Florida Panhandle and the Louisiana
coast west of New Orleans. But computer models pointed to a
more westerly track, putting Katrina ashore on Monday near the
Louisiana-Mississippi border.

"That's bad news for New Orleans and better news for us,"
said Florida's top meteorologist, Ben Nelson.

The hurricane could disrupt U.S. oil and gas rigs in the
Gulf and some energy companies had begun evacuating workers
from their platforms.

Katrina posed a great risk of flooding all along the
northern Gulf coast. The hurricane center said it could become
a Category 4 storm on the five step Saffir-Simpson scale by
Monday -- a potentially catastrophic hurricane with 131
mph-plus (210 kph-plus) winds capable of causing widespread
damage. Meteorologists have warned this hurricane season could
be unusually active.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said residents in the Florida
Panhandle would be ready, even though many had not yet been
able to fully repair their homes after being hit by Hurricane
Dennis last month or Hurricane Ivan last September.

Insured losses from Katrina's first strike were estimated
at $600 million to $2 billion by independent forecasting firms
-- little compared to the estimated $45 billion in total
damages caused in 2004 by four powerful hurricanes that struck
Florida in a six-week period.

But Katrina, which came ashore just south of Fort
Lauderdale late on Thursday, left entire south Florida
neighborhoods thigh-deep in water and toppled thousands of


Boats tore loose from their moorings, small aircraft were
flipped on their backs and power lines brought down across the
area, leaving 1.45 million customers, or nearly 3 million
people, without electricity at the storm's peak.

By Saturday, power had been restored to about 40 percent,
according to Florida Power & Light Co., the main electricity
company in the area. Around 867,000 customers, or roughly 1.7
million people, were still sweltering in the summer heat
without power.

National Guard troops dispensed ice and bottled water and
directed traffic at intersections where the signal lights were
out in the Miami area.

Seven people were killed by the storm, police said. Many
were struck by falling trees and two died aboard the boats they
had lived on, anchored off Miami.

Awash under at least 2 feet of floodwater, Key West
experienced its fifth wettest day on record since the late
1870s, weather forecasters said.