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Katrina kills 50 in one Mississippi county


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Katrina kills 50 in one Mississippi county

Tropical storm heads toward Tennessee, Ohio River Valley

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Hurricane Katrina left at least 56 people dead Monday, about 50 of them in one Mississippi county, CNN confirmed, and the toll was expected to climb following one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the northern Gulf Coast in a half century.

Thirty of those confirmed deaths in Harrison County were at the St. Charles apartment complex, near the beach in casino resort town of Biloxi, said Kelly Jakubic with the county's Emergency Operations Center.

Separately, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in Jackson had confirmed four Katrina-related deaths -- one each in Warren, Leake, Pearl River and Hinds counties, an spokeswoman said.

The Associated Press reported two people lost their lives in storm-related traffic accidents in Alabama.

More than 12 hours after making landfall on the Louisiana coast east of New Orleans, Katrina was downgraded to a tropical storm with winds of 60 mph Monday evening.

The storm's daylong rampage claimed lives and ravaged property in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where coastal areas remained under several feet of water.

In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said there was no official death tally. But, she told CNN she expected that to change.

"We believe we've lost some lives," she said. "We're hearing isolated reports here and there."

Many were feared dead in flooded neighborhoods still under as much as 20 feet of water.

The storm's survivors face months of displacement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to house "at least tens of thousands of victims ... for literally months on end," the agency's director, Michael Brown, said Monday night.

Lakes and rivers were still spilling over levees late Monday, and "it's going to get worse before it gets better," Brown said.

Veteran FEMA staffers who have surveyed the destruction are reporting some of the worst damage they have ever seen, he said.

The American Red Cross said it is launching the largest relief operation in its history.

More than 75,000 people are being housed in nearly 240 shelters across the region, and Red Cross President Marty Evans told CNN, "We expect that to grow" as people who can't return home seek somewhere to stay.

More than 1.3 million homes and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were without electricity, according to utility companies serving the region.

In Mississippi, streets and homes were flooded as far as six miles inland, and the eastbound lanes of Interstate 10 between Gulfport and Biloxi were impassable because of storm debris.

More than 50 people were rescued from flooded neighborhoods in the New Orleans area, according to a spokesman for Louisiana's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness agency.

"We've got a massive search-and-rescue operation going on," Gov. Blanco said. "I believe that we're going to pull out hundreds of people."

Search-and-rescue missions also were under way the the coastal counties of Jackson, Harrison and Hancock Monday evening, emergency management spokeswoman Lea Stokes said.

Hotel worker Suzanne Rodgers returned to her beachfront home near Biloxi but, she told CNN, "there is nothing there. There's debris hanging from trees." (Read Rodgers' harrowing account)

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called Katrina's aftermath "catastrophic."

In Louisiana, Blanco said preliminary reports indicate that Hurricane Katrina "devastated" parts of at least six parishes.

Both states experienced looting.

A crowd of about 50 to 75 people swarmed through a supermarket in New Orleans, taking out shopping carts full of goods before police arrived.

Looting was reported by police in Gulfport, Mississippi, where the storm surge left downtown streets under 10 feet of water.

As of 11 p.m. ET Monday, Katrina was near Columbus, Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm was headed north Monday night through Mississippi toward Tennessee and the Ohio River Valley. But even as a tropical storm, Katrina was still causing plenty of trouble.

Katrina's outer bands spawned tornados in Georgia Monday evening. Three twisters were reported in Georgia, one in central Peach County and two in the northwest counties of Carroll and Paulding. One person in Carroll County was critically injured.

Officials warned Louisiana evacuees to stay away for at least a week to avoid "a wilderness" without utilities that will be infested with poisonous snakes and fire ants.

"We would really encourage people not to come back [to New Orleans] for at least a week," said Ivor van Heerden, director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes in Baton Rouge.

"If your house is gone, it's gone," he said. "If you come back in a day or a week, it's not going to make any difference." (Full story)

Blanco said she had ordered state police to block re-entry routes to all but emergency workers.

After topping levees in New Orleans, Katrina inundated the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts with a 20-foot storm surge.

In Mobile, Alabama, the storm pushed Mobile Bay into downtown, submerging large sections of the city, and officials imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

An oil drilling platform broke away from its moorings and lodged under a bridge that carries U.S. Highway 98 over the Mobile River.

The Alabama National Guard activated 450 troops to secure Mobile. Two other Alabama battalions, or about 800 troops, were activated to assist in Mississippi.

The storm came ashore Monday morning just east of New Orleans. Winds topping 140 mph transformed street signs, tree branches and roof debris into projectiles.

Rising water strained the system of levees and pumping stations that protect the low-lying city. About 70 percent of the city sits below sea level. (Full story)

Water poured over levees in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, and pats of the city's east side were under 9 feet of standing water.

In other developments:

* Crude oil futures topped $70 early Monday as Katrina forced oil workers to evacuate rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and threatened a major U.S. tanker port. The price of a barrel of crude soared in electronic trading in New York and on Asian markets, rising nearly $4 over Friday afternoon's close as the storm churned toward New Orleans, a main hub that accounts for a quarter of U.S. oil and gas production. (Full story)

* Three residents of a New Orleans nursing home died Sunday while being evacuated.

* The latest damage estimates by insurance industry analysts project that total insured damage from Hurricane Katrina could be between $10 billion and $25 billion dollars. The upper end of that range would make Katrina the costliest U.S. hurricane on record. (Watch video report on who pays for storm damage)

CNN's Miles O'Brien, Anderson Cooper and Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.

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