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Fearsome storm closely watched in Alabama

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — Coastal Alabama residents kept their eyes on the watery horizon Saturday as Hurricane Katrina churned toward the north-central Gulf of Mexico on a path for the Louisiana-Mississippi coastline.

Katrina passed over South Florida and gained strength in the warm Gulf to a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. The hurricane's projected path shifted farther west Saturday, with forecasters saying southeastern Louisiana appeared the likely target for the second landfall Monday.

"You never know which way it will go," said Chris Robbins, 34, of Pensacola, Fla., who survived Hurricane Ivan in September with his home not seriously damaged. With Katrina, he said he "gassed up" his vehicle just in case.

Robbins spent time with his family on a visit to Mobile, where few residents had boarded up.

"Since Katrina was not heading directly for us, we decided to stick it out," Robbins said.

Truck driver Glenn Carr of Medford, Ore., pulled off Interstate 10 to kill some time in Mobile, hoping Katrina will go away so he can make cargo deliveries to Tampa, Fla.

"I've been driving 24 years — east to west — and I've seen quite a few hurricanes. Stay out of their way," Carr said.

Gov. Bob Riley offered state assistance to the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana. But Riley did not immediately order any evacuations in Alabama. He said state agencies remain on standby, "prepared to deal with this serious storm."

Hurricane watches were posted from Intracoastal City, La., to the Florida-Alabama border.

Transportation officials had not reversed lanes on Interstate 65, the northbound evacuation route, taking a "wait-and-see" approach to Katrina.

An evacuation of New Orleans sent a Phoenix, Ariz., couple packing Saturday morning. Gasoline lines already had formed when Donnie and Sandy Smith said they reluctantly changed their vacation plans.

The Smiths pulled into a Mobile parking lot Saturday afternoon in a truck towing a 32-foot camper loaded with sleeping gear and two motorcycles. They were hungry and trying to decide if they should continue their drive to Flomaton to visit relatives, or continue a vacation at Gulf Shores beaches.

"We're trying to stay ahead of the storm and get some bike riding in," Donnie Smith said.

Katrina is expected to bring some destructive waves to the Alabama coast, still struggling back from Ivan's blow in September.

Baldwin County Emergency Management Director Leigh Anne Ryals warned that Katrina could bring a 10- to 12-foot storm surge.

"This will greatly impact flood-prone areas such as the Fort Morgan Peninsula, Bon Secour and along Mobile Bay," Ryals said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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