Rita rapidly strengthens, moves into Gulf

Hurricane Rita could strengthen into a Category 4 storm before making landfall this weekend, most likely in Texas, forecasters said.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIM0RE | September 20, 2005

Hurricane Rita could strengthen into a Category 4 storm before making landfall as early as Friday, most likely in Texas, forecasters said. Louisiana and Mexico were threatened as well.

The push was on to move people to safer ground. Federal officials reported they planed to move about 8,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees from shelters in Texas, most of them to Arkansas and Tennessee. In the Louisiana parish of Calcasieu alone, nearly 3,000 evacuees are living in shelters that could be affected by Rita. Local Louisiana officials were concerned about 1,200 evacuees still in the Cajundome in Lafayette, since that facility was built to withstand only a Category 2 hurricane.

Galveston, Texas, was under a voluntary evacuation order, and mandatory evacuations will begin Wednesday.

As of dusk on Tuesday, residents and business owners weren't allowed into New Orelans. More than 20,000 federal relief workers and National Guard troops are also in Louisiana, and evacuation plans were underway for them as well.

In an earlier press briefing, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced he was suspending plans to start bringing residents back into the city. Emergency officials were concerned Rita could spawn heavy rains that will again breach the city’s already weakened levees.

Rita passed just south of the Florida Keys on Tuesday. The storm brought heavy rain and gusting wind to the island chain, but forecasters eased off initial fears that Rita could bring 15 inches of rain. Instead, projections were for eight inches of rain.

All 80,000 residents were ordered out of the Keys on Monday. The Miami area also saw heavy rain and gusting wind, and more than 20,000 people were without power there by Tuesday afternoon.

Rita is the 17th named storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

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