Americans brace for Ivan’s fury

The storm is threatening to submerge the below-sea-level city, in what could be the most disastrous storm to hit in nearly 40 years.

About 750,000 more people along the coast in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama have also been told to flee before the storm hits.

Forecasters say Ivan could strengthen to become a top-level Category Five storm by the time it reaches land as early as Thursday, somewhere along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

It has already caused at least 68 deaths in the Caribbean.

Weather forecasters say Ivan could hit anywhere from the western Florida Panhandle to the south-eastern Louisiana coast.

With hurricane-force wind extending 170km from its centre – and forecast to continue as much as 240km inland – Ivan could cause significant damage no matter where it strikes.

“I beg people on the coast: Do not ride this storm out,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said, urging people in other parts of the state to open their homes to relatives, friends and co-workers.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said there is a 22 percent chance the city will take a direct hit, and the result is likely to be catastrophic.

“If we get a storm like Ivan to hit us directly or to become really close to us, then we could have a situation where we have 12 to 18 feet of water throughout the city,” he said.

He has urged people who are unable to leave the city to evacuate “vertically”.

“Basically, go to hotels and high-rise buildings in the city,” he said.

The storm is moving north-northwest with a gradual turn towards the north expected.

“This is not only a very, very powerful hurricane, but it’s a very large hurricane,” said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

“It’s indeed going to impact a very large area.”

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