Hurricane Katrina plowed into the low-lying Gulf Coast Monday with shrieking, 145-mph winds and blinding rain that submerged entire neighborhoods up to the rooflines and crushed cars under buildings.
The storm unleashed more chaos as it moved into Mississippi, hurling boats into buildings and ripping billboards to shreds. But it slowed in the early afternoon, dropping her violent winds dropped to 95 mph, becoming a Category 1 storm.
But it still loomed over Mississippi, where Katrina recorded a storm surge of more than 20 feet, and where windows of a major hospital were blown out, utility poles dangled in the wind, and billboards were ripped to shreds. In some areas, authorities pulled stranded homeowners from roofs or rescued them from attics. In Alabama, exploding transformers lit up the early morning sky as power outages spread.
"Let me tell you something folks. I've been out there. It's complete devastation," said Gulfport, Miss., Fire Chief Pat Sullivan, who ventured into the hurricane to check threatened areas.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries as of midday, but emergency officials had not been able to reach some of the hardest-hit areas. Gov. Haley Barbour said he feared deaths among those who chose to ignore evacuation orders.
"We know some people got trapped and we pray they are OK," Barbour said.
But destruction was everywhere along Gulf Coast, including an estimated 40,000 homes flooded in St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, said state Sen. Walter Boasso.
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield warned that New Orleans would be pounded throughout the day and that Katrina's potential 15-foot storm surge, down from a feared 28 feet, was still enough to cause extensive flooding. Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane center, estimated that the highest winds in New Orleans were about 100 mph.
Trees were blown across streets and onto houses in New Orleans, utility poles dangled in the wind and billboards were shredded. Windows of a major hospital were blown and the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino, one of the premier gambling spots in Biloxi, had water on the first floor.
The thundering wind ripped open two holes in the roof of the Louisiana Superdome sports stadium — pressed into service as an emergency shelter for the city's poor and those unable to evacuate, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan, who sawin the wind. Water also leaked in several other spots all over the building.
Katrina was the most powerful storm to affect Mississippi since Hurricane Camille came in as a Category 5 in 1969, killing 143 people along the Gulf Coast.
"This is a devastating hit — we've got boats that have gone into buildings," Sullivan said as he maneuvered around downed trees in the city. "What you're looking at is Camille II."
The president of the New Orleans city council estimated that more than 100 people in the city are stranded on their rooftops or in their attics, because they have up to 14 feet of floodwaters in and around their homes, reports Dave Cohen of CBS radio affiliate WWL. Until the winds die down and rescue crews can safely get out, those people are stranded where they are.
In New Orleans' historic French Quarter of Napoleonic-era buildings with wrought-iron balconies, water pooled in the streets from the driving rain, but the area appeared to have escaped the catastrophic flooding that forecasters had predicted.
"It was exactly the right thing for the mayor and governor to do," Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.
The evacuation itself claimed lives. Three New Orleans nursing home residents died Sunday after being taken by bus to a Baton Rouge church. Officials said the cause was probably dehydration.
A FEMA worker heading south to help victims of Hurricane Katrina was killed in a traffic accident on Interstate 81 in Virginia. State Police say William McClaughlin of Manchester, New Hampshire was part of an eleven-vehicle convoy with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was traveling through Virginia
The storm threatened to dump as much as 15 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast. Katrina recorded a gigantic 22-foot storm surge in Mississippi, where windows of a major hospital were blown out, utility poles dangled in the wind, and at least one casino was partially flooded. In Alabama, exploding transformers lit up the early morning sky as power outages spread.
The storm hammered the Gulf Coast with huge waves and tree-bending winds. Exploding transformers lit up the predawn sky in Mobile, Ala., while tree limbs littered roads and a blinding rain whipped up sand on the deserted beach of Gulfport, Miss.
"Our people are sturdy people, strong people. We've dealt with storms before," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "We know we're going to lose some property. There will be extensive damage but we will rebuild. We have confidence in ourselves and know we can restore property we can't restore lives."
Along U.S. 90 in Mississippi, the major coastal route that is home to the state's glitzy casinos, sailboats were washed onto the four-lane highway, which was deserted and flooded in areas.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., which nearly a year ago was Ground Zero for Hurricane Ivan's destruction, waves crashed over the seawalls and street lights danced in the howling winds.
A White House official tells CBS News a presidential release of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve "is certainly a possibility," reports Correspondent Mark Knoller. The storm has already forced the shutdown of an estimated 1 million barrels of refining capacity along the nation's Gulf Coast.
"Our Gulf Coast has been hit, and hit hard," Mr. Bush said.
While gas prices usually peak in August, any major disruption to oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico caused by Hurricane Katrina could keep prices high even longer. Gasoline prices could see the largest spikes because so many refineries in the region could be shut down by flooding, power outages, or both, energy analysts said.
in anticipation of Katrina. About a million dollars a day of oil production has been shot down, evacuating thousands of workers, reports CBS News Correspondent Susan McGinnis. Chevron, Texaco, BP and Mobil have all brought their workers ashore.