08/29/2005 at 03:00 PM EDT
Hurricane Katrina plowed into New Orleans Monday, ripping off part of the Superdome – where evacuees had taken shelter – with 145-mph winds and dumping blinding rain that reached up to some of the city's residential rooftops.
Katrina, which started as a Category 5 storm but was downgraded to a still-devastating Category 4, has moved on to Mississippi, hurling boats into buildings, ripping billboards to shreds, blowing out windows of a hospital and flooding casinos, the Associated Press reports.
Along the Gulf Coast, an estimated 40,000 homes flooded in St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, said state Sen. Walter Boasso.
In Alabama, exploding transformers lit up the early morning sky as power outages spread. "Let me tell you something folks. I've been out there. It's complete devastation," said Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan, who ventured into the hurricane to check threatened areas.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries as of midday, but emergency officials have not been able to reach some of the hardest-hit areas. Gov. Haley Barbour said he feared loss of life among those who chose to ignore evacuation orders.
"We know some people got trapped and we pray they are okay," Barbour said.
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield warned that New Orleans would continue to be pounded throughout Monday and that Katrina's potential 15-foot storm surge, down from a feared 28 feet, was still massive enough to cause extensive flooding.
Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the hurricane center, estimated that the highest winds in New Orleans hit about 100 mph.