Thousands flee dangerous Rita

Rita had strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane with 135-mph winds Wednesday, and could strengthen further before making landfall in Texas by Saturday, forecasters said.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIM0RE | September 21, 2005


Rita had strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane with 135-mph winds Wednesday, and could strengthen further before making landfall in Texas by Saturday, forecasters said.

The storm was churning westward at about 14 mph.

Galveston, Texas was under mandatory evacuation. Galveston County, home to about 267,000 people, is located on a Gulf Coast barrier island 40 miles southeast of Houston. Galveston is the location of the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. In 1900, an unnamed hurricane killed some 8,000 people there.

Western Louisiana was also on high alert, since a slight turn to the right was possible.

New Orleans was also under mandatory evacuation orders because officials feared heavy rainfall would cause floodwaters to breach the already weakened levees. At this point, the levees can withstand only six inches of rain, according to Army Corps of Engineers officials. About 500 residents were left in New Orleans on Wednesday.

Forecasters were still hoping the storm would weaken to a Category 3, also a possibility.

Rita skirted the Florida Keys on Tuesday, causing less damage than expected. Localized flooding was reported. Residents began returning there Wednesday.

Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.


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