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Katrina's fury hits coast

Waves crash against a boat washed onto Highway 80 as Hurricane Katrina hits the Gulf Coast Monday, Aug. 29, 2005 in Gulfport, Miss.

The hurricane turned a bit to the east as it hit land, but will the levees hold?

But 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 substantial enough to cause extensive flooding.

“I’m not doing too good right now,” Chris Robinson said via cellphone from his home east of the city’s downtown. “The water’s rising pretty fast. I got a hammer and an ax and a crowbar, but I’m holding off on breaking through the roof until the last minute. Tell someone to come get me please. I want to live.”

At the Superdome, home to 9,000 storm refugees, wind peeled pieces of metal from the golden roof, leaving two holes that let water drip in. People inside were moved out of the way.

Others stayed and watched as sheets of metal flapped and rumbled loudly. From the floor, looking up more than 19 stories, it appeared to be openings of about six feet long. Outside, one of the 10-foot, concrete clock pylons set up around the Superdome blew over.

“The Superdome is not in any dangerous situation,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.

…For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare scenario a big storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl of a city that is up to 10 feet below sea level in spots and relies on a network of levees, canals and pumps to keep dry from the Mississippi River on one side, Lake Pontchartrain on the other.

The fear was that flooding could overrun the levees and turn New Orleans into a toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from refineries, as well as waste from ruined septic systems.

In the uptown area of New Orleans on the south shore of Lake Ponchartrain, floodwaters by 8 a.m. had already intruded on the first stories of some houses and some roads were impassable.

The National Weather Service reported that a levee broke on the Industrial Canal near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line, and 3 to 8 feet of flooding was possible. The Industrial Canal is a 5.5-mile waterway that connects the Mississippi River to the Intracoastal Waterway.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding