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Katrina's official death toll tops 1,000

Louisiana prepares for Rita, but levees still vulnerable



  • Louisiana: 799 deaths
  • Mississippi: 219
  • Florida: 11
  • Alabama: 2
  • Georgia: 2
    Total: 1,033

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    Hurricane Rita
    Hurricane Katrina
    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

    NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- The number of deaths in Louisiana blamed on Hurricane Katrina has risen to 799, the state's Department of Health and Hospitals said Wednesday, bringing the overall death toll to 1,033.

    Mississippi reports 219 people killed in the storm, Florida's toll is 11 dead and Alabama and Georgia each report 2 killed.

    The new total came as Louisiana prepares for a second hurricane, Rita, which has strengthened to a Category 5 storm -- even more intense than Katrina when it slammed into the Louisiana-Mississippi border on August 29. (Watch woman who has been forced to move by two hurricanes -- 6:49)

    Rita's maximum sustained winds were 165 mph (265 kph) as of Wednesday afternoon.

    A Category 5 hurricane has winds of greater than 155 mph (248 kph) and storm surges higher than 18 feet (6 meters), according to the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

    While the latest extended forecast predicted Rita would come ashore late Friday or early Saturday near Galveston, Texas, forecasters weren't ruling out a hit on Louisiana. (Full story)

    Even a few inches of rain could prove disastrous to New Orleans' levee system, badly damaged by Katrina.

    The levees are not able to withstand "any sizable event," said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers. "We think something on the line of 3 inches over six hours would probably put 2 to 4 feet of water in the lower-lying sections of the city." (Watch video on the levees' condition -- 2:09)

    The corps said it has pumped as much floodwater caused by Katrina as possible out of New Orleans. (Full story)

    Evacuation orders

    To the west, residents of Louisiana's Cameron Parish, which is adjacent to Texas, have been ordered to evacuate by 7 p.m. Wednesday (8 p.m. ET), according to the parish's Office of Emergency Preparedness.

    The head of the state emergency preparedness office said Tuesday about 3,000 buses will be available to Louisiana parishes for evacuations.

    Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of federal troops in New Orleans, said Wednesday he was ready for Rita.

    "I got buses, I got troops, I got doctors, I got helicopters standing by," he said.

    "That's what I know, and it's well-organized from that perspective. It still comes up to a person's choice," he said, referring to those who had chosen to ignore mandatory evacuation orders.

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued the orders Tuesday and told residents who had no transportation to assemble at the convention center to take buses out of town.

    Nagin and other officials emphasized that neither the convention center nor the damaged Superdome would be used as shelters as they were during Katrina.

    About 500 buses were standing by to take people out, and contingency plans were being made to use commercial jetliners if necessary, said Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the federal point man for recovery efforts.

    Warships to move

    To get out of Rita's way, USS Iwo Jima, with 800 Marines aboard, and USS Shreveport, carrying 200 Marines, will set sail from New Orleans toward Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

    Eventually the ships will follow behind Rita and help with recovery efforts after the storm makes landfall.

    The ships have been serving as a command center for federal relief efforts for New Orleans.

    The U.S. military's Northern Command also was identifying shelters and havens outside of New Orleans it might use to house the thousands of National Guard and active duty troops now engaged in relief efforts.

    Brown to testify

    Michael Brown, who resigned September 12 as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will testify next week as part of a House probe into the government's response to Katrina.

    Brown is scheduled to appear before the committee Tuesday and will testify in part about coordination between federal, state and local governments, said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, who chairs the special House panel heading the probe.

    David Paulison, director of FEMA's preparedness division, replaced Brown as interim director. (Full story)

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