Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Rita Could Be Strongest Storm to Hit Texas*

Associated Press Writer 11 minutes ago

Gaining strength with frightening speed, Hurricane Rita swirled toward the Gulf Coast a Category 5, 175-mph monster Wednesday as more than 1.3 million people in Texas and Louisiana were sent packing on orders from authorities who learned a bitter lesson from Katrina.
With Rita projected to hit Texas by Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry urged residents along the state's entire coast to begin evacuating. And New Orleans braced for the possibility that the storm could swamp the misery-stricken city all over again.
Galveston, low-lying parts of Corpus Christi and Houston, and mostly emptied-out New Orleans were under mandatory evacuation orders as Rita sideswiped the Florida Keys and began drawing energy with terrifying efficiency from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland — most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.

The U.S. mainland has never been hit by both a Category 4 and a Category 5 in the same season. Katrina, at one point became a Category 5 storm, weakened slightly to a Category 4 hurricane just before coming ashore.

Late Wednesday, Rita was centered about 570 miles east-southeast of Galveston and was moving west near 9 mph. Forecasters predicted it would come ashore along the central Texas coast between Galveston and Corpus Christi. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from the center of the storm.

But with its breathtaking size — tropical storm-force winds extending 370 miles across — practically the entire western end of the U.S. Gulf Coast was in peril, and even a slight rightward turn could prove devastating to the fractured levees protecting New Orleans.
In the Galveston-Houston-Corpus Christi area, about 1.3 million people were under orders to get out, in addition to 20,000 or more along with the Louisiana coast. Special attention was given to hospitals and nursing homes, three weeks after scores of sick and elderly patients in the New Orleans area drowned in Katrina's floodwaters or died in the stifling heat while waiting to be rescued.Galveston, a city of 58,000 on a coastal island 8 feet above sea level, was the site of one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history: an unnamed hurricane in 1900 that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people and practically wiped the city off the map.
The last major hurricane to strike the Houston area was Category-3 Alicia in 1983. It flooded downtown Houston, spawned 22 tornadoes and left 21 people dead.
Rita approached as the death toll from Katrina passed the 1,000 mark — to 1,036 — in five Gulf Coast states. The body count in Louisiana alone was put at 799, most found in the receding floodwaters of New Orleans.
The Army Corps of Engineers raced to fortify the city's patched-up levees for fear the additional rain could swamp the walls and flood the city all over again. The Corps said New Orleans' levees can only handle up to 6 inches of rain and a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimated only 400 to 500 people remained in the vulnerable east bank areas of the city. They, too, were ordered to evacuate. But only a few people lined up for the evacuation buses provided. Most of the people still in the city were believed to have their own cars.
Crude oil prices rose again on fears that Rita would smash into key oil installations in Texas and the gulf. Hundreds of workers were evacuated from offshore oil rigs. Texas, the heart of U.S. crude production, accounts for 25 percent of the nation's total oil output.
Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, making this the fourth-busiest season since record-keeping started in 1851. The record is 21 tropical storms in 1933. The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Associated Press Writers Lynn Brezosky in Corpus Christi, Alicia Caldwell in Galveston and Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center:

Katrina's Death Toll Climbs Past 1,000
Associated Press Writer 58 minutes ago*

Searchers smashed through doors in New Orleans on Wednesday, bringing their hunt for the dead to homes that had been locked and to blocks hardest hit by Katrina's flooding. Behind those doors, officials said they expected a sharply escalating body count even as the overall death toll passed 1,000.
"There still could be quite a few, especially in the deepest flooded areas," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jeffrey Pettitt, who is overseeing the retrieval of bodies. "Some of the houses, they haven't been in yet." Officials said searchers are beginning to find more children.
The death toll in Louisiana stood at 799 on Wednesday, an increase of 153 bodies since the weekend and nearly 80 percent of the 1,036 deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina across the Gulf Coast region. Pettitt and other officials would not speculate on what the final tally could be. They said the effort could last another four to six weeks.

Experts see Rita pushing fuel over $3
By Randy FabiWed Sep 21, 2:05 PM ET

Hurricane Rita will push U.S. gasoline prices over $3 a gallon again, but the rise is likely to be limited as the higher pump price caps consumer demand, oil analysts said on Wednesday.
Rita's impact on oil refineries and oil production could be a "national disaster," according to the head of the nation's biggest maker of gasoline, Valero Energy Corp. (NYSE:VLO - news).
"If it hits the refineries, and we're short refining capacity, you're going to see gasoline prices well over $3 a gallon at the pump," said Valero Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Greehey.
The Gulf Coast, which accounts for about a third of domestic crude oil production, braced for the second major hurricane in less than a month.
Rita was upgraded on Wednesday to a powerful Category 4 storm as it headed across the Gulf of Mexico on a course that could take it to Texas, home to a fourth of U.S. oil refinery production.
Federal officials said 18 Texas oil refineries stood in Rita's projected path, which account for 23 percent of U.S. refining capacity.
The storm comes just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina damaged numerous rigs, platforms and refineries near the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

Southern India storm death toll mounts
22.09.05 5.20am
At least 1000 people are missing in southern India and hundreds of fishermen are unaccounted for in Bangladesh after a severe storm in the Bay of Bengal killed 50 people. Indian authorities said about 100,000 people were homeless after heavy rains caused flooding in coastal districts of the southern Andhra Pradesh state. Most of the victims were either electrocuted or died in house collapses. In Bangladesh about 300 fishermen are missing after the storm triggered high waves and heavy rain along the coast.

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