(11:20 p.m.) -- Katrina is nearing Louisiana as a Category Five hurricane -- the highest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale, making this strongest storm of the 2005 Atlantic season. At 10 p.m. CDT, the center of the storm was 170 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. Katrina is expected to strike early on Monday; a mandatory evacuation has been issued in New Orleans, according to CNN.
Katrina has already been blamed for seven deaths in Florida, according to CNN, and forecasters fear worse from this second, stronger landfall. (The storm was originally expected to make a second landfall in Florida, hitting the Panhandle after blowing across the southern part of the state earlier this week as a Category One.)
The National Hurricane Center says this "potentially catastrophic" hurricane's maximum sustained winds are currently 160 miles per hour. Though intensity could fluctuate, the storm is expected to come ashore as either a Category Four or Category Five; only three Category Five hurricanes have hit the United States since record-keeping began (the last being 1992's Hurricane Andrew).
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the north central Gulf Coast, including New Orleans; a hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are possible within the next 24 hours. Tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches are in effect from east of the Alabama/Florida border to Destin, Florida, and from west of Morgan City, Louisiana to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. A tropical storm warning is also in effect from Destin, Florida eastward to Indiana Pass, Florida, and from Intracoastal City, Louisiana westward to Cameron, Louisiana.
The entrance to the Mississippi River has been closed; below are storm-related itinerary changes reported by major cruise lines in all affected areas:
Carnival's Holiday will be delayed arriving back to Mobile. The ship is expected to return on Wednesday, August 31. Holiday's upcoming cruise, originally scheduled to depart on Monday, will become a three-day cruise to nowhere to depart on Wednesday. Guests who elect to cancel will receive a full refund; guests who elect to sail will receive a 50 percent refund of their fare as well as a discount of 50 percent good toward a future Carnival cruise of three to five days.
Carnival Conquest's current sailing ended in Galveston today instead of New Orleans due to the evacuation. The ship will remain docked in Galveston until noon on Monday; guests are allowed to stay onboard while coordinating arrangements home. Carnival will provide free motorcoach transportation to the Houston airports, and a $200 credit will be added to guests' shipboard accounts to offset additional travel expenses guests may incur in returning home. Additionally, all guests will receive a 25 percent discount on a future three- to seven-day cruise.
Guests parked at the pier in New Orleans will not be able to access their cars until the storm passes and there is a complete assessment of the area. For more information, please call the port's toll-free hotline (866-476-7866).
Carnival Miracle's August 28 voyage departed from Port Everglades instead of Tampa. Guests received free transportation by motorcoach from Tampa (available from both the port and airport) to Port Everglades, and a $50 per-person shipboard credit.
Inspiration will end its current cruise in Port Everglades on Monday instead of Tampa. The next voyage, set to depart Monday afternoon, will leave from Port Evergaldes. Carnival will provide complimentary motorcoach transportation (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) between Ft. Lauderdale and the Tampa airport and cruise port for both embarking and debarking guests. Guests who have purchased air transportation from Carnival will be assisted in changing incoming flights to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. All guests sailing on the August 29 departure from Port Everglades will receive a $50 per-person credit to their shipboard accounts.
Imagination, which was originally scheduled to end a cruise in Miami Thursday, remained at sea and arrived Saturday instead. The following voyage, a four-day cruise converted to a two-day Bahamas cruise, departed Miami on Saturday. Guests who opted to sail this modified itinerary will receive a 50 percent refund of their cruise fare and a 50 percent discount off a cruise of three or four days. Guests who opted to cancel will receive a full refund.
Fascination, which was originally scheduled to end a four-day voyage in Miami Friday, spent an extra day at sea, arriving instead Saturday. The following voyage, converted from a three-day cruise into a two-day Bahamas voyage, departed on Saturday. Guests who opted to sail on the modified cruise will receive a 35 percent refund of their cruise fare and a 50 percent discount off a future three-day cruise. Guests who opted to cancel will receive a full refund.
Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas departed from Miami yesterday on a converted two-day sailing. Guests who opted to cancel will receive a 50 percent refund; guests who opted to sail will receive an onboard credit of $100 per stateroom.
Empress of the Seas, now on four-night sailing, sailed from Tampa on a modified itinerary. The ship will return to Port Everglades on Monday.
Check back often; we'll continue to provide updates and itinerary changes as necessary.
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Hurricane Katrina, Season's Strongest, Heads for Louisiana
August 28, 2005