Residents in New Orleans have been speaking of their fear and fascination as Hurricane Katrina bore down on their city.
Many residents were unwilling to leave their city despite the warnings
Those unable or unwilling to leave spent the night in hotels and the city's 77,000-seat Superdome stadium.
"I'd rather watch this than watch a movie," said Steven Grades, 22, as he looked out of a window in the stadium, where around 9,000 people had taken refuge.
The venue, home to the American football team New Orleans Saints, offered few comforts but provided life-saving shelter.
"If they hadn't opened up and let us in here, there'd have been a lot of people floating down river tomorrow," said Merrill Rice, 64.
"If it's as bad as they say, I know my old house won't stand it."
Morris Bivens, 53, a painter, came to the dome with his wife, daughter and five grand-daughters, aged one to nine.
"I had to come," he said. "Not for me. I ride these out all the time. But I knew I couldn't save those children in this one if something happened."
"Please pray for New Orleans," read a giant hand-painted sign appearing to sum up the fears that have gripped the city known as the Big Easy, for its laid-back atmosphere.
Dwayne Carey, 28, was one of many people who took refuge in hotels in the city.
"It's my first time sitting through a storm. Let's see what it can do," he said in the centrally-located Best Western hotel lobby.
Some guests were trying to videotape the storm through an open doorway as debris swept past along the flooded street.
"It's not gotten as bad as it's going to," said Melisa Kennedy, 31, the hotel's general manager, who asked guests to return to their rooms for their safety.
"We're expecting the lobby to get flooded."
She said she had seen water fill the streets several times and at one point begin seeping in under the sandbags and into the hotel bar.
"It's not life-threatening," said Mrs Josephine Elow, 73, at hotel Le Richelieu in New Orleans' French Quarter. "God's got our back."
Aaron Broussard, head of the Jefferson Parish, a large residential area classed as vulnerable to the storm, said some residents had chosen to ride out the storm at home.
"I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard," he said.
Resident Chris Robinson, who decided to remain in his home east of the city centre, was showing signs of distress.
"I'm not doing too good right now," he said via mobile phone. "The water's rising pretty fast.
"I got a hammer and an axe and a crowbar, but I'm holding off on breaking through the roof until the last minute. Tell someone to come get me please. I want to live."