Calamity threatens New Orleans

HURRICANE GEORGES was last night bearing down on New Orleans, threatening a calamity of intense rainfall, river surges and high winds that could drive Lake Pontchartrain over its levees and submerge this low-lying city.

Forecasters said up to 25 inches of rain could fall on New Orleans, coupled with a storm surge that could drive billions of gallons of water up the Mississippi River toward the city. In an area that averages 6 feet below sea level and is bordered by swamps, tidal lakes and the Mississippi - the results could be catastrophic.

The 110mph storm, which has already killed more than 300 as it cut a swathe through the Caribbean and Florida, was expected to smash into the Gulf Coast late Sunday or early Monday, local time. Waves nearing 33 feet were reported by lunchtime and as the afternoon wore on, the forestorm hit, blowing waves across beachfront roads in Mississippi.

Throughout the weekend, and especially on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents fled. More than 1.5 million people were ordered or urged to leave New Orleans and coastal areas, and tens of thousands flocked to the city's nine shelters. As darkness closed in, local forecasters held out only one glimmer of hope - that the storm might, just might, make a merciful turn.

Inside empty city, page 3