75-mile traffic jam as Andrew roars on

NEW ORLEANS (Reuter) - Almost a million people fled their homes in southern Louisiana yesterday to escape a hurricane that devastated south Florida, smashing tens of thousands of homes and leaving at least a dozen dead.

Hurricane Andrew, one of the fiercest to hit the United States this century, was gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall again last night after causing up to dollars 20bn ( pounds 10bn) of damage in south Florida on Monday.

An estimated 300,000 fled New Orleans and 500,000 more fled the lowlands in the southern part of the state. Shops were packed with people buying canned food and water before they fled their homes, and a 75-mile traffic jam was reported on the road between New Orleans and the state capital of Baton Rouge.

By boat, car, truck and even horse, south Louisiana residents headed for high ground as the storm churned through the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 140 mph toward the state's coastline. 'I'm telling them either leave or let me know their next of kin,' said Bobby Santine, the Civil Defence director for Grand Isle, Louisiana. More than 1.6 million people live in the metropolitan New Orleans area, most of them well below sea level. Police in New Orleans said they saw everything from bread trucks loaded with furniture to pickups filled with children, pets and mattresses heading north through the city.

At least 50,000 homes were destroyed in south Florida and two million people left without electricity. There were reports of looting, with police powerless to stop scavangers.