NEW ORLEANS – Monster storm Hurricane Ivan (search) continued crawling toward the Gulf Coast Wednesday, heading straight for the Alabama-Mississippi coastlines and prompting officials to urge millions to get out of the way. Two people were killed by tornadoes spawned from the storm, Bay County, Fla., officials said.
At 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Ivan was centered about 105 miles south of the Alabama coast and was moving north at 14 mph. The storm, which plowed through the Caribbean, has now killed at least 70 people in all.
To view the currently projected path of Ivan, click here and then click on Maps and Charts.
Roughly 2 million people have been encouraged or even ordered to leave coastal areas, including more than 1.2 million in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
"If we turn up dead tomorrow, it's my fault," said Jane Allinder, who stayed stubbornly behind at her daughter's French Quarter doll shop to keep an eye on her cat.
Evacuees in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge regions streamed toward higher ground as highways became one-way streets and surf eroded beaches as the outer bands of the 200-mile-wide hurricane darkened the sky.
Hurricane-force winds extended out 105 miles from the Category 4 storm, meaning a large swath of the Gulf Coast could get slammed with a storm surge of 10 to 16 feet and up to 15 inches of rain. After reaching land, Ivan threatened to stall over the Southeast and southern Appalachians, with a potential for as much as 20 inches of rain.
The effects from Ivan could be seen across the Gulf Coast several hours before the storm's expected arrival: The churning surf, ominous clouds, swaying traffic lights and escalating winds were all the reminders some people needed to take cover. The storm also claimed its first deaths in the United States, spinning off tornadoes that killed two people in Florida. Others were trapped inside their damaged homes.
"We have a report from a deputy that it looks like a war zone," said sheriff's spokeswoman Ruth Sasser.
Ivan's monster waves — some up to 25 feet — were already destroying homes along the Florida coast Wednesday. Twelve-foot waves boomed ashore at Gulf Shores, Ala., eroding the beach. A buoy about 300 miles south of Panama City registered waves over 34 feet high.
"We're leaving today. All this is going under," surfer Chuck Myers said along the beach at Gulf Shores. "We surfed it all day yesterday. It was glorious."
Forecasters refused to predict exactly where the storm would land because they didn't want anyone in the general vicinity of the hurricane to relax and think they were out of harm's way when they might not be.
In spite of the imminent threat of the mega storm heading straight for downtown Mobile, Ala., the city's Mayor Mike Dow told FOX News Wednesday that he was confident they'd be able to rebuild after Ivan strikes. After all, the town was hard hit in 1979 when Hurricane Frederic wreaked havoc on much of the area.
"I think that's what the old American spirit is all about, isn't it? Just knock it down, build it back and keep on going," Dow said cheerfully. "That's what we are going to do. My concern really is about life here right now. It is not about the properties. ... I just want people to get in the car and leave."
Mobile was bracing for heavy rains and flooding, with predictions looming that much of downtown would be partially submerged in water up to a story high within the next 24 hours.
In Louisiana, a cancer patient and an 80-year-old nursing home resident died after they evacuated and were caught in hours-long traffic jams.
Forecasters told FOX News that the eye of the storm would likely make landfall sometime between midnight and 6 a.m. Thursday — specifically around 3 or 4 a.m. — and could hit as a Category 3 storm or higher. It's currently logged in as a Category 4.
But although Ivan, which also killed at least 68 people in the Caribbean, had weakened very slightly to 135 mph Wednesday, it was still an "extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane," according to meteorologists. And it could once again grow stronger before it crashes ashore early Thursday morning along the Gulf Coast.
The storm could cause significant damage no matter where it strikes, as hurricane-force winds extended up to 105 miles out from the center. Hurricane warnings were posted along a 300-mile stretch from Grand Isle, La., across coastal Mississippi and Alabama to Apalachicola, Fla.
Federal disaster response teams had already been deployed and water and other aid were at the ready, a White House spokesman said. Disaster relief officials were also briefing President Bush (search) on the storm's progression.
Twelve-foot waves already were booming ashore Wednesday morning at Gulf Shores and starting to erode the beach. Rain had started falling along the Florida Panhandle.
"This is the first time I've seen waves this big and we've been coming here for years," said Terry Kilpatrick of Winston County in north Alabama, who was boarding up windows on his condominium units at Gulf Shores.
Fleeing to safety was not an option for some people, especially in New Orleans (search), the below-sea-level city where residents were urged to get out of the metropolitan area — though by mid-afternoon, it still hadn't begun raining there.
"They say evacuate, but they don't say how I'm supposed to do that," said Latonya Hill, who waited out the storm Tuesday sitting on her stoop.
Hill, 57, lives on a disability check and money she picks up cleaning houses or baby-sitting. "If I can't walk it or get there on the bus, I don't go. I don't got a car. My daughter don't either."
No shelters had been set up in the city because of concerns about flooding and capacity, Mayor Ray Nagin said.
Nagin said at a Wednesday morning press conference that Ivan was apparently moving northerly, making the city a little less vulnerable than first predicted.
"We most likely will be braised by hurricane force winds," Nagin said. "[But] we are still in the cone of certainty as they say as it relates to this hurricane."
The city opened the Louisiana Superdome to people with medical problems that kept them from evacuating. All bridges out of the city were ordered shut down because of the threat of high wind, and Police Chief Eddie Compass imposed a 24-hour curfew as of 2 p.m.
Other area residents said they were staying put because they were hearing reports of monumental traffic tie-ups out of town.
"I'm staying because the evacuation route is so bogged down with traffic," a native New Orleans resident named Colleen told FOX News on Wednesday. "It's taking some of our people 15 hours just to get out of town. One of my friends left this morning at 4:00 to go to Houston. She made it to Baton Rouge and it's been six hours."
Indeed, the hurricane's anticipated turn to the north had taken place Wednesday, with the eye expected to pass close to Mobile, Ala. (search), late Wednesday or early Thursday, said FOX News meteorologist Colin Marquis.
To the east, Interstate 65 in Alabama was turned into a northbound-only evacuation route Wednesday morning from the harbor city of Mobile to Montgomery.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told FOX News on Wednesday that his state was as prepared as it could be.
"We're about 10 feet above sea level. If we get 15-, 16-foot surges, we're going to be underwater," Riley said, adding that the real danger of "catastrophe" comes from the potential of high winds. "It's hard to protect anyone in 140 mile-per-hour winds."
Ivan could be the worst hurricane to hit Alabama since 1979, when fast-moving Frederic devastated the coast by splintering hundreds of homes and businesses. Ivan was moving slower than Frederic, increasing the possibility of serious flooding from prolonged rainfall and damage from wind damage.
Streets were all but deserted Wednesday morning in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and along Mississippi's 75-mile coast, and most homes and businesses, including a number of gas stations, were boarded up.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in Pensacola Beach, Fla., Pensacola Mayor John Fogg told FOX News.
"People are paying close attention to this storm," he said Wednesday. "We know what kind of devastation they [hurricanes] can cause."
But at Perdido Key, on the Alabama-Florida state line, a steady stream of drivers stopped along U.S. 98, several taking pictures of the churning surf.
"This is almost a once-in-a-lifetime view," said Glen Phillips, who has lived in the area since 1967.
Everyone from New Orleans east to Apalachicola, Fla., should be worried because even the tiniest change in the storm track now could move the location of the storm's landfall by hundreds of miles, said Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center (search).
"Even a little jog could result in considerable change," he said.
"I beg people on the coast: Do not ride this storm out," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said, urging residents in other parts of the state to open their homes to relatives, friends and co-workers.
In Alabama, Mobile County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Kirchharr said he didn't expect the shelters to be filled until "tropical-force winds start reaching the shore and people start panicking more than they are right now."
No shelters were available in nearby Baldwin County, Ala., said assistant emergency management director Roy Wulff. The county usually uses schools as shelters, but the wind expected from Ivan "far exceeds the winds those buildings were built to withstand," he said.
No major problems were reported Wednesday on Mississippi's U.S. 49, the four-lane route from the coast north to Jackson, although it had been bumper-to-bumper late into the night, said Gulfport police Lt. Ricky Chapman said.
"Right now things are running pretty smooth but it might pick up again" as evacuation holdouts reconsider, he said.
New Orleans is particularly vulnerable to flooding. Up to 10 feet below sea level in spots, it sits between the nearly half-mile-wide Mississippi River and Rhode Island-size Lake Pontchartrain, relying on a system of levees, canals and huge pumps to keep dry.
The city has not taken a major direct hit since Betsy in 1965, when an 8- to 10-foot storm surge submerged parts of the city in 7 feet of water. Betsy, a Category 3 hurricane, was blamed for 74 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
In the New Orleans' French Quarter, police stood by Wednesday as tourists took a morning walk, and bars were open.
"I ain't going nowhere cause I ain't scared," Charles "Smitty" Smith, 60, said as he sipped a morning beer at the Double Play bar in the French Quarter. "I don't care where you are. If you're in the eye of a hurricane, it doesn't matter. I believe in the Lord. ... If the Lord wants to take me, take me."
Some people said they wanted to stay to witness the storm's wrath firsthand.
"There's nothing like a severe storm to put a human being in their proper place," said Prentice Howard, 59, stationed at Naval Station Pascagoula in Mississippi. "I want to experience the power of nature. It sounds dumb to some people but that's the way it is. Sort of like skydiving."
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jeanne (search) was threatening to turn into a hurricane Wednesday in the Caribbean as it approached Puerto Rico. At 11 a.m., it had wind of about 70 mph, just a few mph below hurricane strength, and was about 45 miles south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Long-range forecasts showed it could be near Florida's east coast as early as the weekend.
FOX News' Kathleen Wereszynski, Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Alicia Acuna, Rick Leventhal, Jonathan Serrie and The Associated Press contributed to this report.