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Katrina drenches Mobile

From Kathleen Koch

After taking a battering from Katrina, the oil rig drifted and got stuck under a bridge in the Mobile River



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MOBILE, Alabama (CNN) -- Downtown Mobile sat several feet under water Monday and an oil rig broke loose from its moorings and drifted into a major bridge across the Mobile River after the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina pelted the city with heavy rain and high wind.

The Cochrane-Africatown Bridge on U.S. Highway 98 was closed for a damage assessment after a drilling platform drifted into the structure and wedged itself under the west end of the bridge, the state Transportation Department announced.

The incident happened "sometime shortly after 11 a.m." the agency said.

The bridge is used to bypass a tunnel under the river on Interstate 10 -- a road that was largely out of sight under the murky water that flowed into downtown Monday afternoon.

Video of downtown showed floodwater had risen above the doors of the Gulf Coast Exploreum building.

In an effort to discourage curious residents from checking out the hurricane damage, authorities Monday afternoon implemented a mandatory curfew for all of Mobile County.

Mobile, which sits slightly inland on the Mobile River, was on the eastern side of the storm's eye wall, where the strongest wind and highest storm surge was forecast. (Full story)

About a half block away from the Exploreum, the bottom floors of the CSX terminal -- which normally sits on the waterfront -- were inundated.

Katrina also pounded Mobile with hurricane-strength gusts, shaking building walls and knocking down trees and power lines.

According to the National Weather Service, a wind gust of 80 mph was reported at the Mobile Airport Monday morning.

CNN affiliate WKRG recorded wind gusts of 72 mph, just under hurricane strength (74 mph).

The powerful wind downed a massive billboard sign about a mile west of Interstate 65 along Mobile's Airport Boulevard, damaging a nearby business.

A 20-foot storm surge was forecast as Katrina pushed inland.

Rain driven by heavy wind pelted the 17-story Lafayette Plaza Hotel, forcing people inside to be moved to the west side of the building.

"Water was pouring through the closed windows on the east side of the hotel because of the strong winds," CNN's Kathleen Koch said.

Wind tore up an American flag on the front of hotel, and tossed around a metal vent cover on a two-story rooftop. Two hotel workers braved the weather in an attempt to secure the 6-foot by 4-foot piece of debris.

A canvas-covered National Guard truck drove through the passable streets of Mobile, which were otherwise empty.

Mobile County opened 11 shelters where some 2,700 people sought shelter. The shelters were at half capacity and officials said they were not sure if people heeded evacuation warnings or if they decided to ride out the storm.

Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation for 56,000 people living in low-lying and coastal areas of Mobile and Baldwin counties. Another 128,000 were urged to seek shelter elsewhere.

Around 12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. ET), the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency ordered all county residents to stay indoors until Tuesday morning as a safety precaution.

Most hurricane deaths occur in the aftermath of the storm, as a result of fallen trees and downed power lines.

After Tuesday morning, a dusk-to-dawn curfew will be in effect for Mobile County until further notice. Only those who have an emergency or are required to go to work will be exempt from the curfew, which includes the cities of Mobile, Prichard, Chickasaw, Saraland, Satsuma, Mount Vernon, Creola, Citronelle, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island, as well as all unincorporated areas of Mobile County.

The Alabama National Guard has activated a security force of about 450 personnel to Mobile and Baldwin Counties to help with traffic control as well as help secure the area, according to Gen. Mark Bowen.

The state's National Guard has also activated two battalions -- a military police battalion of 285 and an engineer battalion of 500 -- to help neighboring Mississippi with its recovery.

"During (Hurricane) Ivan we relied on them to come help us so it's our time for payback," Bowen said. "We're on standby and ready to go."

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