Hurricane warnings were issued to a 300-mile swath of coastline from Grand Isle, La., to Apalachicola, Fla., but by Wednesday Ivan took on a northerly course generally toward the center of the warning zone along the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. The storm’s center was predicted to hit land early Thursday.
The hurricane has killed at least 68 people in the Caribbean, and although winds have eased very slightly to 135 mph, it is still considered a Category 4 storm.
“This is a bad one and people need to get out,” Mobile, Ala., Mayor Mike Dow told ABC’s Good Morning America. Deputies went door-to-door through the night in south Mobile County, instructing residents to leave, the Associated Press reported.
Interstate 65 in Alabama was turned into a northbound-only evacuation route Wednesday morning from Mobile to Montgomery.
About 2 million people had been urged or ordered to leave coastal areas, including more than 1.2 million in the New Orleans area.
New Orleans faces special dangers as it sits below sea level near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The city’s Mayor Ray Nagin said the evacuation was going well but noted at least 100,000 people reliant on public transportation had no way to leave. He advised those who remained to move to the higher floors of tall buildings to avoid floodwaters that could rise up to 18 feet.
But forecasters said hurricane winds increase at higher levels. For example, winds at the top of a 30-story building could be 20-25 mph higher than the ground floor, they said.
In 1965, when Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans, located between the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain, parts of the historic jazz city were submerged under several feet of water. The storm killed 76 people.
Florida authorities, facing a possible third hurricane in just over a month, told about 543,000 people to evacuate mobile homes and flood-prone coastal areas in 20 western counties, according to Reuters.
Oil companies took thousands of workers from offshore platforms and shut down some refineries and rigs in the Gulf. Oil prices rose Tuesday due to Ivan’s presence but steadied Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jeanne was nearing hurricane strength as it pounded Puerto Rico with heavy rains and high winds Wednesday. The eye of the storm was expected to hit Puerto Rico’s southwest coast by the afternoon, prompting hurricane warnings there and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.