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 » Rebuilding  |  Landmarks  | Storm & Flood  |  Special report

Katrina was Category 3, not 4

Hurricane weaker at landfall than initially thought

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Louisiana
National Weather Service

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- When it slammed ashore on the Gulf Coast in August, Hurricane Katrina was a strong Category 3 storm, not a Category 4 as initially thought, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday.

The final hurricane center report on Katrina, released Tuesday, also said New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain likely escaped the storm's strongest winds.

But even so, the hurricane center said, "It was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever strike the United States."

Katrina was responsible for more than 1,300 deaths in five southeastern states, with the majority of those in Louisiana.

The large and intense storm overwhelmed the city's levee system -- thought to be able to withstand a Category 3 storm -- and caused massive flooding in and around New Orleans. Some estimates have put the cost of reconstruction at more than $200 billion.

Initial reports said Katrina had 140-mph winds when it pummeled Louisiana and Mississippi. Katrina's top sustained winds were actually near 127 mph when it made landfall near Buras, Louisiana, the hurricane center report said. A Category 4 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 131 to 155 mph, while a Category 3 has maximum sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph.

Katrina first made landfall August 25 in South Florida as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of near 81 mph. At one point, after moving west into the Gulf of Mexico, it reached Category 5 status with maximum sustained winds of nearly 173 mph before making landfall on the Gulf Coast.

"Katrina continued northward and made its final landfall near the mouth of the Pearl River at the Louisiana/Mississippi border, still as a Category 3 hurricane" with maximum sustained winds of about 121 mph, the hurricane center said.

As the center of Katrina approached New Orleans, it stayed to the city's east, meaning "the strongest winds corresponding to that intensity were likely present only over water to the east of the eye," the hurricane center said. "The sustained winds over all of metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain likely remained weaker than Category 3 strength."

Because several measuring stations in the New Orleans area lost power before peak winds were experienced, the highest winds the city sustained are not known, the report said. But a NASA facility in eastern New Orleans measured a 1-minute sustained wind of nearly 97 mph, and a National Weather Service site along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway measured a 1-minute sustained wind of 78 mph.

The majority of New Orleans likely experienced wind equivalent to a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, the hurricane center said, although those winds would be stronger for those on upper floors of high-rise buildings.

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