Houston mayor urges evacuations as Hurricane Rita moves closer to shore

Thursday, September 22, 2005

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Traffic is bumper to bumper on Houston interstate highways as citizens try to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Rita. Houston Mayor Bill White urged citizens in low areas of the city to "begin making their evacuation plans" in preparation for what is currently the 3rd strongest hurricane to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean and the worst to enter the Gulf of Mexico.

Acting U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director David Paulison was quoted saying "I strongly, strongly urge Gulf Coast residents to pay close attention to this storm. It's already a Category 4, a huge storm, it's in warm waters and there's a potential for it to increase more," at a briefing in Washington DC. The storm was upgraded to a category 5 hurricane on Thursday, the strongest category of storm. Recently, Rita has lost intensity since entering cooler waters and facing wind shear from an opposing weather front, and is now a Category 4 storm.

3 Day Forecast for Hurricane Rita

Houston, Texas lies 50 feet above sea-level on average, but the area is still prone to flooding as the region is very flat and supported by multiple bayous. In 2001, following Tropical Storm Allison, large areas of Houston remained flooded after receiving 10 inches (250 mm) of rain, causing over $US 5 billion in damage. Meteorologists fear that Rita could cause similar, if not worse damage.

Located 50 miles away from the inland city of Houston, and situated on the Gulf’s coastline, lies Galveston, Texas at a mere 8 feet above sea level. The island city, with a population of nearly 60,000, built a 10-mile-long, 17-foot-high solid granite barrier next to the sea as a defense against hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center currently predicts a storm surge from Rita in the 15 to 20 feet range, along with strong battering waves. The city manager of Galveston, Steve LeBlanc said, "Galveston is going to suffer. And we are going to need to get it back in order as quickly as possible. I would say that we probably have 90 percent of our residents have left the island. It feels like a ghost town to me, and that's a good thing."

Rita is expected to slow down and linger after making landfall in the region. That could possibly mean even more damage from heavy rainfall accumulations. The governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, said the rain is a threat to New Orleans. Anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rainfall are expected there, when earlier predictions estimated that 3 inches of rainfall would be enough to cause more flooding in the city.


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