***no blues in new orleans atm***

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    City flees 'perfect storm'
    From: Agence France-Presse From correspondents in New Orleans
    August 29, 2005

    TENS of thousands of people fled New Orleans Sunday amid fears of catastrophe as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the low-lying southern US city with 257 km/h winds.

    "We are facing the storm that most of us have feared," said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as he issued an unprecedented mandatory evacuation order for the city known as "The Big Easy."
    "I do not want to create panic. But I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious and it's of the highest nature," Mr Nagin said.

    US President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency that clears the way for federal aid, and urged people to get out of the hurricane's path.

    "We cannot stress enough the dangers this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities. I ask citizens to put their safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground," Mr Bush said from his Texas ranch.

    Katrina, which looked set to make landfall around 7am (9pm AEST) today, has become a rare, "potentially catastrophic" category-five storm, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale.

    Katrina ranked only at category one when it hit south Florida last Thursday, where it killed seven people before turning out to the Gulf of Mexico.

    "We need to pray, of course, very strongly, that the hurricane force would diminish," said Louisiana state Governor Kathleen Blanco.

    Highways were gridlocked as tens of thousands of people fled New Orleans and other coastal areas. Because much of the city of 1.4 million people is below sea level, it is highly prone to flooding. Mr Nagin feared flood embankments would not withstand the ferocity of the hurricane.

    Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Centre director, warned the biggest threats were not wind or rain, but rising Gulf waters.

    "People need to understand that the greatest potential for large loss of life is from the storm surge flooding near the coastline," Mr Mayfield said on CNN.

    At the city's Louis Armstrong airport, people anxiously awaited outbound flights.

    "I'm just happy to be getting out of here," said Tracy Roberson, a 31-year-old postal worker who sat at the airport with her cat. "I think there's going to be casualties because they didn't give enough notice."

    A line of people stretching four city blocks waited to be admitted to the New Orleans Superdome sports arena, which authorities designated a shelter of last resort for those unable to flee the city.

    Authorities also ordered evacuations in neighbouring Mississippi, which expected to be slammed by the monster storm that gathered energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico as it neared land.

    There was also concern Katrina's wrath could dramatically impact oil prices, which already reached record highs on Thursday amid fears the hurricane would affect rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Katrina was expected to rage dangerously close to offshore oil platforms, most of which have been evacuated.

    At 10am AEST, the eye of the storm was located 210km south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with hurricane-force winds extending 170km outward.

    Katrina is the 11th named Atlantic storm this year and among the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record.

    Records going back to 1851 show that only three category-five hurricanes have hit the US in over 150 years.

    Hurricane Andrew killed more than two dozen people when it slammed into south Florida in 1992, while Camille caused more than 250 deaths in Mississippi in 1969, and "Labor Day" killed about 600 people in the Florida Keys in 1935.
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