Low-lying Louisiana parishes called for evacuations Saturday and lines formed at gas stations in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina appeared to be taking aim at the region while gathering strength over the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico.
"This is not a test," New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said at a news conference. He said he would probably ask people to leave at daybreak Sunday, and said the Superdome could be pressed into use as a shelter of last resort for people who do not have cars.
Katrina threatened to strike land again as early as Monday after ripping across southern Florida and killing seven people.
The National Hurricane Center posted a hurricane watch for the eastern half of the Louisiana coast, including New Orleans. The watch was likely to be extended to other areas, which could extend from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
Katrina was a Category 3 storm with 115 mph sustained wind Saturday, but the hurricane center said it was likely to get stronger over the Gulf, where the surface water temperature was as high as 90 degrees.
"Right now, it looks like Louisiana is in line for a possible direct hit," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. "It does not bode well for southeastern Louisiana."
Mandatory or voluntary evacuations were called on Grand Isle, Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island, and in the parishes of St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebonne, Plaquemines and St. Bernard.
Most permanent residents of Grand Isle, La., don't leave for storms, said Jeannette Ruboyianes (Roo-buh-YAH-nees), owner of the Day Dream Inn.
"You have to have money to evacuate. If you don't have it, you ride out the storm," she said. "You know, at this juncture, all we can do is pray it doesn't come this way and tear us up."
About 300,000 residents of low-lying areas of the Florida Panhandle east of Pensacola also were under voluntary evacuation orders. The military planned to move aircraft and personnel out of some Panhandle bases Saturday.
Ray Arizi, owner of a hardware store in Venice, La., a coastal fishing town, said he was selling lots of bottled water, flashlights and batteries as people made storm preparations.
"Hopefully God will save us. That's all we can say," Arizi said.
People across New Orleans were filling their gas tanks, with lines several blocks long in some places, and some pumps were out of everything but premium.
By 11 a.m. Saturday, the eye of the hurricane was located about 200 miles west of Key West or about 405 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was moving west at nearly 7 mph and was expected to gradually turn toward the west-northwest, the hurricane center said.
Hurricane-force wind extended up to 40 miles out from the center, the center said.
Katrina was a Category 1 with 80 mph wind when it hit South Florida on Thursday, and rainfall was estimated at up to 20 inches. Risk modeling companies have said early estimates of insured damage range from $600 million to $2 billion. That would make Katrina much less costly than the previous hurricanes.
South Florida utility crews were still working to restore power to 850,000 customers, down from more than 1 million. Crews had to clear away fallen trees to fix aboveground lines and wait for flooding to subside to reach underground ones.
South Florida residents waited in lines that stretched for miles to reach state-operated centers distributing free water and ice for those without electricity.
Florida has been hit by six hurricanes since last August. The Panhandle was slammed by Hurricane Ivan last year, then again by Hurricane Dennis this year, both Category 3 storms.
Four people killed by falling trees, one man was killed when his car struck a fallen tree, and two people died in their boats.
Katrina is the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1. That's seven more than typically have formed by now in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane center said. The season ends Nov. 30.