Category 5 storms leave everyone in their deadly path terrified: Extremely violent winds blast away at more than 155 miles per hour, the storm surge rises near the height of a two-story building, airplanes get tossed about, and boats land in the middle of the street.
Only three Category 5 storms have ever hit the U.S. — Katrina is next.
Those in Katrina’s path know and fear what its awesome power can do. “Even if it weakens down to a Category 4 this is gong to be one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States,” says Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center.
The strongest storm was the Labor Day hurricane in 1935 that swept thru the Florida Keys, killing more than 400.
Then there was came Camille in 1969. It swamped parts of Mississippi and Louisiana with winds so strong that the measuring instruments were destroyed.
Survivors have painful memories of those lost: “A lot of them went to the church to escape the wrath of the hurricane, and the church caved in and killed 28 of them,” says Murray Rabalais.
And southern Florida will never forget Andrew. It’s still America’s costliest natural disaster, at some $25 billion.
It was so devastating that the name "Andrew" was removed from the list for hurricane names so there won’t be another Andrew again.
As forecasters track Katrina, they’re leery that like all huge hurricanes, it’s erratic, unpredictable, and could turn in a different direction at any moment. The warnings now cover a wide area.
There have been lessons learned since America’s deadliest hurricanes. In Galveston in 1900, a Category 4 storm, 6,000 to 8,000 people died when warnings weren’t taken seriously—a much different time than today.