The enormously powerful Hurricane Katrina approaching New Orleans Monday morning prompted local officials to call for a citywide evacuation of residents. Meanwhile, Christian relief groups are positioning themselves to provide aid to the victims of what could be a catastrophic storm.
Katrina's Category 5 classification by meteorologists places it in the most intense category of hurricanes. It has been making its way through the Gulf of Mexico this past weekend with wind speeds surpassing 160 mph and is expected to hit New Orleans at dawn on Monday.
"Have God on your side, definitely have God on your side," said Nancy Noble to the Associated Press as she sat in traffic gridlock on Interstate 10 with three friends as they attempted to escape the brunt of the storm. She added, "It's very frightening."
Already, all of New Orleans' 485,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate by Mayor C. Ray Nagin, with many hitting the highways to avoid the worst. AP reports there may be over 100,000 people who do not have the means to leave.
New Orleans officials have tried to address the problem in part by providing refuge for some of the homeless, frail and poor of the city in the Superdome, an NFL indoor football stadium that can house thousands. Others who can't leave the city include tourists who are stranded due to closed airports. The city is providing buses to transport those in need to the stadium.
Christian organizations, part of a larger relief effort that includes federal emergency response teams, have been preparing to provide aid to victims immediately after the hurricane has passed. Groups such as the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief agency, and the Convoy of Hope are readying mobile feeding units that will provide food, drinking water, shower units and first aid supplies.
The Salvation Army's Emergency disaster Services teams have the capability of serving thousands. In Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, it will be helping in the post storm efforts.
The organization has placed 28 Mobile Feeding Units (MFU) and two fully equipped mobile kitchens on alert to give aid to victims, emergency aid workers and volunteers.
Each MFU can feed 5,000 meals per day, while the mobile kitchens can provide up to 20,000 meals daily. In addition to food, clean-up kits, drinking water, shower units and first aid supplies will be provided. If necessary, another 200 MFU's and 125 disaster response vehicles will be ready to respond throughout the Southeast.
Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center noted in an AP report that the storm could be more powerful than the last Category 5 storm, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which killed 43 people and caused over $31 million in damage in Florida.
The Weather Channel reports that waves from 20 to 40 feet high will pound the coastal regions.
Mayfield told AP that the hurricane is capable of causing catastrophic damage. He added that, "Even well-built structures will have tremendous damage. Of course, what we're really worried about is the loss of lives.
"New Orleans may never be the same.
The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief agency is also preparing to provide aid. Its centralized operations began to operate on Sunday morning. About 25 feeding units will be provided to help the American Red Cross and four by the Salvation Army. Southern Baptist teams will also go to help operate two large kitchens owned by the American Red Cross, according to a press statement.
Convoy of Hope, the Assemblies of God-related relief agency has been loading food and ice water aid into trucks and planning routes to reach the affected areas. It is monitoring the situation to see where it can provide the most help.
Meteorologists from the Weather Channel predict that the strongest impact will be felt in New Orleans, La., and Biloxi, Miss., on Monday morning and afternoon with inland impact in Meridian, Miss., and Jackson, Miss., occurring by mid-afternoon and evening.
New Orleans Mayor Nagin expressed that this hurricane would be "a once-in-a-lifetime event," because of its intensity, according to AP.
James Bosco, one of the many packing materials to leave his beachfront home in the city of Gulfport expressed to AP, "Hopefully it will take a turn and we'll be spared the brunt of it, but it just don't look like that." He added, "I just hope everybody makes it all right. We can always rebuild."