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Rita weakens -but still packs punch

Hurricane Rita had weakened to a Category 4 storm by Thursday afternoon but was still packing 150-mph winds as the latest storm tracks showed a landfall slightly northeast of Houston.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIM0RE | September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita had weakened to a Category 4 storm by Thursday afternoon but was still packing 150-mph winds as the latest storm tracks showed a landfall slightly northeast of Houston.

Though the storm could weaken to a Category 3 hurricane by landfall, forecasters said it would still be destructive. Rita could bring a 20-foot storm surge to Texas and to western Louisiana.

About 1.8 million people in Texas and Louisiana were ordered to evacuate by Thursday afternoon. Highways out of Houston were so clogged that motorists were running out of gas, and police were patrolling the highways offering fuel.

Hotels were booked up to the Oklahoma and Arkansas line.

It was already raining in New Orleans by Thursday afternoon.

In a sad repeat of post-Katrina New Orleans, Houstonís low-income neighborhoods may also be the most vulnerable to flooding. Faith-based disaster response groups were particularly concerned about Hispanic neighborhoods on the southeast side of the city. But local Houston officials pointed out that a far greater percentage of people have left that city than left New Orleans before Katrina.

Texas state officials reported they were airlifting at least 9,000 people out of harmís way, including elderly people and the homeless.

Post-hurricane Texas could also loom as an environmental disaster. The state has a large number of chemical plants, refineries and petroleum storage facilities.


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