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Texas evacuationlargest in state's history

As Rita approached the Texas coastline on Thursday, residents were heeding evacuation orders and getting out.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIM0RE | September 22, 2005

As Rita approached the Texas coastline on Thursday, residents were heeding evacuation orders and getting out.

The evacuation of approximately 1.5 million Texans is unprecedented, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Texas state officials have identified 750 buses and three trains that will be used for evacuations. Texas has activated 5,000 National Guard to assist with evacuation process.

Traffic was gridlocked for 100 miles north of Houston.

The Category 5 storm weakened slightly on Thursday morning but forecasters said it would still be a major hurricane - meaning Category 3 or higher - when it makes landfall.

By Thursday morning, Rita was centered some 490 miles southeast of Galveston. Forecasters were still predicting landfall late Friday or early Saturday between Galveston and Corpus Christi.

But conditions will begin to deteriorate much earlier, forecasters said. Heavy rains associated with Rita are forecast to begin to affect the western and central Gulf Coast areas Thursday night, and a storm surge along the Gulf coast is expected to begin on Thursday.

The storm could drop up to 15 inches of rain.

Faith-based disaster response groups reported they had two priorities on Thursday: first, to move their personnel and volunteers out of harm's way, and second, to line up new resources to be able to respond to Rita. Responders urged volunteers to affiliate themselves with a group and not to self-deploy. They also continued to emphasize the cash donations were the best way to help.

Local, state and federal officials are coordinating emergency preparedness activities from joint field offices in Austin, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the death toll from Katrina passed 1,000 on Wednesday.

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