HURRICANES OF 2005
9-21-05 - Rita becomes a category 3 in the Gulf
9-22-05 - Rita becomes a category 5 in the Gulf
9-23-05 - extraordinary tragedy in evacuations
|Mandatory evacuations begin
in Keys as Florida readies for Rita
Hurricane warnings issued in Monroe County and for Miami-Dade County.
& Andrew Ryan of sun-sentinel.com
September 19, 2005, 11:15 AM EDT
KEY WEST -- Officials ordered residents evacuated from the lower Florida Keys on Monday as a strengthening Tropical Storm Rita churned toward the exposed island chain, bringing with it a potential 8-foot storm surge. Hurricane warnings were issued for the Keys and Miami-Dade County.
In Broward County, meanwhile, all schools will be closed on Tuesday because of Rita, district spokeswoman Nadine Drew said.
Drew also said that extra-curricular activities and adult
education classes at Broward schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday.
``Not that we're afraid of the hurricane, but we want to protect
our investment,'' Friend said. ``Plus it gives us an excuse to take a
day off and drink.''
The entire Keys was under a hurricane warning. Rainfall totals of 6 to 15 inches were possible in the Keys, with 3 to 5 inches possible across southern Florida. Storm surges of 6 to 8 feet above normal tide levels were predicted to batter the Keys.
Officials extended mandatory evacuation orders Monday for visitors throughout the Keys, including the Dry Tortugas, and residents in mobile homes and areas at risk for storm-surge flooding, as well as those living aboard their boats.
``We're happy to get out of here before the storm comes,'' said Joan Taylor, 73, of Midland Park, N.J., who was planning to fly out of Key West on Monday.
The stream of vehicles leaving the Keys on Sunday included RVs, cars towing boats and thousands of motorcycle riders who left an annual gathering a day early. U.S. 1, the lone highway in the Keys, was packed.
Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for Florida, which gives the state authority to oversee evacuations and activate the National Guard, among other powers.
Despite the evacuation order, however, some hotels and restaurants in Key West remained open, and few businesses were boarded up Sunday night.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Rita was centered about 195 miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas, and about 430 miles east-southeast of Key West. It was moving to the west-northwest at about 12 mph, according to the hurricane center.
Four hurricanes struck Florida last year, killing dozens of people and causing $19 billion in insured losses. Hurricane Dennis brushed by the Keys in July before slamming the Florida Panhandle.
Farther out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Philippe formed late Sunday well east of the Lesser Antilles. At 5 a.m., Philippe had maximum sustained wind near 75 mph, and was centered about 385 miles east of the Leeward Islands. It was moving to the north near 7 mph.
Long-range forecasts showed the system moving into the Gulf of Mexico late in the week as a hurricane, then possibly approaching Mexico or Texas.
But forecasters warned those across the U.S. southern coast that long-term predictions are subject to large errors. That means that areas ravaged by Katrina should be watching the storm.
Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. That makes this season the fourth busiest since record keeping began in 1851 _ 21 tropical storms formed in 1933, 19 developed in 1995 and 1887 and 18 formed in 1969, according to the hurricane center.
Four hurricanes struck Florida last year, killing dozens of people and causing $19 billion in insured losses in Florida. Hurricane Dennis brushed by the Keys in July, flooding some Key West streets, toppling trees and knocking out power, before slamming the Florida Panhandle.
Hurricane Katrina hit South Florida last month, killing 11 people.
Farther out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Philippe formed late Sunday well east of the Lesser Antilles. At 5 a.m., Philippe had maximum sustained winds near 75 mph, and was centered about 385 miles east of the Leeward Islands and was moving to the north near 7 mph.
The hurricane season started June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
Associated Press Writer Dominic Duncombe in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this report.
Upgraded To A Category 3 Hurricane
Sep 21, 2005, 02:44 AM PDT
Rita has picked up more steam, upgraded at 2 a.m. ET to a Category 3 Hurricane with 115 mph winds. Rita appears headed for the Gulf Coast with Texas a likely target and western Louisiana and northern Mexico also possibilities.
And things could get worse: the Hurricane Center says Rita could be a Category 4 by 2 p.m. Wednesday and could make its second strike at the end of the week, possibly Friday.
Tuesday, Rita went from a tropical storm with top sustained wind of 70 mph early Tuesday to a hurricane with 100 mph winds by early afternoon as it passed just south of the Florida Keys.
Texas Governor Rick Perry's office says about 4,000 evacuees from Louisiana will be moved to Fort Chafee, Arkansas, 3,000 will be moved to Tennessee, and 250 will be moved to Nebraska.
In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers is racing to patch up the city's fractured levee system. Residents who refused to flee Katrina - and those who have returned home - were again urged to evacuate, with the chance that heavy rain could trigger new floods.
Rita is now located about 145 miles west of Key West and about 130 miles northwest of Havana, moving west at about 14 mph, with hurricane force winds extending 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds reaching out 140 miles from the eye of the storm, the season's fifth major hurricane.
In the wake of Rita's first strike, at least one segment of the Florida Keys highway, U.S. 1, is now barricaded because of water and debris from the storm surge that washed over the road - the only one in and out of the area. Scattered power outages are also reported.
According to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, about 1,300 people are in shelters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all three Keys hospitals were evacuated.
Thousands of residents and tourists had fled the low-lying island chain, where forecasters said Rita could dump up to 8 inches of rain, down from earlier forecasts of up to 15 inches.
Gov. Bush says over 2,000 Florida National Guard troops and dozens of law enforcement officers are ready to deal with the storm's aftermath. More than 200 truckloads of ice and water were prepared for delivery to the Keys if needed and helicopters are in place for search and rescue.
"We have got a lot of flooding, it is literally almost up to our knees. This storm surge is really coming over — there's a 4-foot wall behind these homes and the water is coming over these homes," said Tina Verona of CBS station WFOR-TV, reporting from Marathon, Fla.
Roads were nearly deserted in Marathon, about 45 miles northeast of Key West, and virtually all businesses were closed, except for the Stuffed Pig diner, where workers promised to keep serving food regardless of the weather.
"We've stayed open lots of times with no power. We've got a gas stove so it gets awful hot in here but we can still serve up food," said Julie Gervasio, who has worked at the restaurant for five years.
As Katrina pounded the Florida Keys, thousands of Katrina evacuees across Texas were being moved, via bus and air, away from coastal areas.
Forecasters said the storm could hit Texas by the end of the week. But a slight turn to the right was possible, and engineers warned that even a glancing blow to New Orleans and as little as three inches of rain could swamp the city's levees.
Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco strongly urged people along the Louisiana coast to be prepared to get out.
Rita's threat was enough to frighten places like Galveston, Texas – potentially in Rita's path – as many people are already clearing out under a mandatory evacuation, Strassmann reports.
"You should be listening to us and you should be prepared to go on the highway," said Lyda Ann Thomas, the mayor of Galveston.
"Nobody's going to take a chance. Everybody's a little bit scared right now because of the Katrina thing," Galveston evacuee Danny Owens told Strassmann.
On the southern side of the Florida Straits, Cuba evacuated 58,000 people from low-lying areas along the northern coast, more than 6,000 in Havana alone, Cuban National Defense officials reported Tuesday.
CBS News' Portia Siegelbaum reports that as Rita continues to move west-northwest, Cuba's Civil Defense lifted the hurricane alert in four provinces in central Cuba. Cuba evacuated 136,452 people, including 5,552 tourists, as of midday Tuesday, even though the island expects to be spared the brunt of Hurricane Rita's fury.
Cuba's top meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, said the heaviest accumulation of rain was 3.1 inches in Matanzas province, Siegelbaum reports, and the speed at which Rita is moving prevented greater accumulations despite the intensity of the rainfall, he said.
Cuban officials also transferred scores of tourists from a sea-level hotel on a tip of land jutting into the ocean at the Varadero beach resort, east of Havana, where high winds knocked down utility poles and scattered tree branches.
Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, making this the fourth-busiest season since record-keeping started in 1851. The record is 21 tropical storms in 1933. Six hurricanes have hit Florida in the last 13 months.
The hurricane season started June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
©MMV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
|September 22, 2005 update ...there is no doubt that hurricane Rita has been manipulated to increase strength and turn it in the past 12 hours to move towards houston (its path just a few hours ago was to port lavaca far to the south of houston) ... it made a hard right turn overnight when the visible satellites could not track its deflection ... the oil futures are projecting $5.00 + per gallon by morning ... your country is being trashed folks and this is just the beginning ... aren't you happy you have an oil president ?? listen for details of this crazy world on my show this week ... jim mccanney|
Evacuation Turns Deadly as Storm Advances
By MIKE GRACZYK, AP
HOUSTON (Sept. 23, 2005) - Hurricane Rita roared toward the Texas and Louisiana coast with 135 mph winds Friday, creating monumental traffic jams along evacuation routes and raising fears of a crippling blow to the nation's oil-refining industry.
The storm was expected to come ashore early Saturday along the upper Texas-Louisiana coast on a course that could spare Houston and Galveston a direct hit. But Rita could plow into the oil and chemical centers of Beaumont and Port Arthur, about 75 miles east of Houston.
Also Friday, as many as 24 people were killed when a bus carrying elderly evacuees caught fire.
In rainy New Orleans, water poured over a patched levee, gushing into the city's hard-hit but largely empty Ninth Ward and heightening fears that Rita would flood the devastated city all over again.
"Our worst fears came true," said Maj. Barry Guidry of the Georgia National Guard. "We have three significant breaches in the levee and the water is rising rapidly."
By Friday morning, the freeways within Houston had cleared out, but traffic was still bumper-to-bumper from the outskirts of the city toward Austin and Dallas. The state escorted tanker trucks full of gas to empty stations in small towns along the way.
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, the chief executive for the county surrounding Houston, told residents who had not left yet to stay where they were for the storm.
The bus fire took place in a traffic jam on Interstate 45 near Wilmer, southeast of Dallas. The vehicle was rocked by explosions and engulfed in flames that reduced it to a blackened, burned-out shell.
Early indications were that the bus it caught fire because of mechanical problems, then passengers' oxygen tanks started exploding, Dallas County Sheriff's Department spokesman Don Peritz said.
Nearly 2 million people along the Texas and Louisiana coasts were urged to get out of the way of Rita, setting off an unprecedented exodus that brought traffic to a standstill across the Houston metropolitan area. Cars overheated and ran out of gas in 10- and 12-hour traffic jams. Some drivers gave up and turned around and went home.
"It can't get much worse, 100 yards an hour," fumed Willie Bayer, 70. "It's frustrating bumper-to-bumper."
Scores of petrochemical plants are situated along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast in the nation's biggest concentration of oil refineries, and damage and disruptions caused by Rita could cause already-rising oil and gasoline prices to go even higher. Also, environmentalists warned of the possibility of a toxic spill.
Plants shut down operations, and hundreds of workers were evacuated from offshore oil rigs. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said state officials had been in contact with plants about "taking appropriate procedures to safeguard their facilities."
At 11 a.m. EDT, Rita was about 210 miles southeast of Port Arthur, moving northwest near 10 mph. Its winds had weakened to near 135 mph -- down from 175 mph on Thursday. That meant Rita was on the border between a Category 3 and a Category 4 storm.
Its hurricane-force winds extended up to 85 miles from the center, and its tropical storm-force winds reached outward 205 miles, meaning Houston and Galveston might not feel Rita's full fury but could still get battered.
Two communities that stood to bear the brunt of the storm were Port Arthur, a city of about 58,000 that is home to industries that include oil, shrimping and crawfishing; and Beaumont, a petrochemical, shipbuilding and port city of about 114,000. Beaumont was the site of the 1901 Spindletop oil gusher that gave birth to the modern petroleum industry.
The first bands of rain were expected before nightfall Friday. Forecasters warned of the possibility of a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet, battering waves and rain of up to 20 inches, with more than 25 inches possible over the next several days as the storm moves inland into Texas and Louisiana and wrings itself out.
Texas officials scrambled to reroute several inbound highways to accommodate outbound traffic, but many people were waiting so long they ran out of gas and were forced to park.
"We know you're out there," Houston Mayor Bill White said of the congestion that extended well into Louisiana. "We understand there's been fuel shortages."
Texas Army National Guard trucks were escorted by police to directly provide motorists with gasoline. The state was also working to get more than 200,000 gallons of gas to fuel-starved stations in the Houston area.
By late Thursday night, the traffic was at least moving slowly, but was still backed up for about 100 miles in what White called "one of the largest mass evacuations in American history."
Rita brought steady rain to New Orleans for the first time since Katrina. The forecast was for 3 to 5 inches in the coming days -- dangerously close to the amount engineers said could send floodwaters pouring back into recently dry neighborhoods.
Dozens of blocks in the Ninth Ward were under water as a waterfall at least 30 feet wide poured over and through a dike that had been used to patch breaks in the Industrial Canal levee. Guidry of the National Guard said water was rising about three inches a minute.
The impoverished neighborhood was one of the areas of the city hit hardest by Katrina's floodwaters and finally had been pumped dry before Hurricane Rita struck.
Sally Forman, an aide to Mayor Ray Nagin, said officials knew the levees were compromised, but they believe that the Ninth Ward is cleared of residents.
"I wouldn't imagine there's one person down there," Forman said.
The usually bustling tourist island of Galveston -- rebuilt after as many as 12,000 people died in a 1900 hurricane that is still the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history -- was all but abandoned, with at least 90 percent of its 58,000 residents cleared out.
The last major hurricane to strike the Houston area was Category-3 Alicia in 1983. It flooded downtown Houston, spawned 22 tornadoes and left 21 people dead.
At Houston's Johnson Space Center, NASA evacuated its staff, powered down the computers at Mission Control and turned the international space station over to the Russian space agency.
Katrina's death toll in Louisiana rose to 841 Friday, pushing the body count to at least 1,078 across the Gulf Coast. But the company under contract to collect the bodies in the New Orleans area suspended operations until at least Sunday because of the approaching storm.
In southwestern Louisiana, up to 500,000 residents along the state's southwest coast were urged to evacuate and state officials planned to send in buses to take refugees.
The U.S. mainland has not been hit by two Category 4 storms in the same year since 1915. Katrina came ashore Aug. 29 as a Category 4.
"Katrina. It's scared everyone," said Dianna Soileau, 29, who was fleeing the refinery town of Texas City with her husband and two children. "We don't want to be the same thing."
Associated Press writers Pam Easton in Galveston and Liz Austin in Austin contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Hurricane Slams Into Gulf Coast; Flooding Begins
BEAUMONT, Tex., - Hurricane Rita, with an eye 20 miles wide and wind gusts of almost 150 miles per hour, slammed into the Gulf Coast before dawn on Saturday, causing far less damage than officials had feared but raising new concerns as its torrential rain and storm surges caused widespread flooding across much of the region
By late Saturday, only one death had been attributed to the storm or its remnants; one person was killed in Mississippi when a tornado hit a mobile home, The Associated Press reported. On Friday, 24 residents of a living center for the elderly died when the bus in which they were being evacuated caught fire.
Officials said the storm was less deadly than Hurricane Katrina partly because of the evacuation of millions of Gulf Coast residents who had transportation away from the area and heeded warnings, mindful of the flooding, death and destruction of nearly a month ago.
Through the day as the storm moved northward, every eye was on the rising waters. In Terrebonne Parish and Houma, south winds shoved water from the Gulf of Mexico through the low-lying lands, topping levees designed for storm drainage but unequipped for hurricane protection.
The high water left 15,000 residents vulnerable over an area of 820 square miles, said Don Schwab, president of Terrebonne Parish.
More than 650 evacuees had been placed in three local shelters by early Saturday evening, with the number expected to rise significantly, Mr. Schwab said. Water rose four to five feet in the lowest areas, he said, but some evacuees said it had risen even higher.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday night that the storm appeared to be moving inland more quickly than had been expected. Heavy rains were still expected in its path, but forecasters had warned that the storm could stall over the Gulf Coast region, causing rainfall of up to 25 inches over days.
In Jefferson Parish, helicopters and boats from the Navy and the Coast Guard rescued about 500 people who were stranded in their homes around Lafitte, La., about 30 miles south of New Orleans, state officials said.
It was the largest search-and-rescue mission that had occurred so far in Louisiana in response to Hurricane Rita. Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a Louisiana National Guard spokesman, said soldiers were "heavily engaged" in missions in Vermilion Parish and were trying to make their way to parishes farther west.
"We still are unable to perform evacuation, search-and-rescue missions in those areas due to the high winds," Colonel Schneider said.
Across Louisiana, nearly 18,000 people were in shelters. And power was out to more than 1.2 million customers in Texas and Louisiana.
Houston, where 2.5 million residents choked roadways for hours as they fled the approach of the storm, appeared to have been spared major damage. But Mayor Bill White and Gov. Rick Perry pleaded with residents not to return home yet, saying it was still unsafe to do so because of rain and high winds.
Worried that a rush home would result in another nightmarish traffic jam, the Texas Department of Transportation released an unusual plan that calls for people in various sectors in and around Houston to return on different days. Those from the northwest part of the city and from communities to the Northwest were told return Sunday. Those from the southwest are supposed to return Monday, and those just from a small part of the area to the northeast are supposed to return Tuesday.
Hurricane Rita made landfall about 3:40 a.m. Eastern time as a Category 3 storm, which carries winds up to 130 m.p.h., with its eye passing just east of Sabine Pass, Tex., near the Texas-Louisiana border. After hitting land, the storm weakened to a Category 2 and later was downgraded to a tropical storm, which has winds of less than 75 m.p.h.
President Bush, who was criticized for his administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, monitored Hurricane Rita from the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs and other emergency command centers.
James Gunter, the fire chief in Jasper, Tex., about 70 miles north of the coast, said in a interview with KHOU-TV early in the morning: "We've had fires in the county that we have not been able to respond to - won't be able to respond to, period. The entire county is without power."
Chief Gunter added, "We can go out on the south side of our building and we can look to the south and we can see nothing less than utter devastation."
Early Saturday, water levels were receding in the upper and middle portions of Galveston Bay as strong winds were pushing the water southward, causing it to pile up across bayside locations of Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Forecasters said the flooding farther west along Galveston Island, on the north-facing bay shores, was expected to subside by midday.
In New Orleans, water that topped two repaired canal levees in the Ninth Ward on Friday because of rain and wind as Hurricane Rita approached began to recede somewhat on Saturday.The Army Corps of Engineers said water had dropped just over a foot in the Industrial Canal by Saturday morning. Plans were being made for helicopters to drop 3,000-pound to 7,000-pound sandbags into a 25-to-30-foot gap where water still flowed into the evacuated Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, which had been battered by Hurricane Katrina.
"We just have to get clearance with Mother Nature," said Mitch Frazier, a spokesman for the corps.
The worst damage from Hurricane Rita appeared to be in southwestern Louisiana and East Texas. But the storm also sparked fires in Galveston and Houston. In Lake Charles, La., early unconfirmed reports told of heavy damage to the glass facade of the Hibernia Bank tower downtown, potential damage to casino barges on Lake Charles, and a fallen overpass on either Interstate 10 or Interstate 210, a spur to the south of town.
Parts of Beaumont were flooded, and there were indications that water had been swept around Port Arthur's horseshoe-shape seawall. One resident of Orange, a town just to the northeast, called the courthouse to say she was climbing into her attic to escape rising water.
Glass blew out of the J.P. Morgan/Chase Tower in downtown Houston, forcing the police to cordon off the area.
In coastal counties and parishes, crews of workers rose in the dark early Saturday and prepared to go out at first light to assess the damage, while inland Texas counties like Jasper were still under siege by the storm.
"We're in the process of going through the eye right now, so we've got a lot of rough times ahead," Diane Brown, the acting Jasper County Jail administrator, said after answering the telephone at the Sheriff's Office early Saturday morning.
In Louisiana, officials from Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes huddled in the Calcasieu Parish Jail, which had been evacuated of all 1,149 inmates before the storm. About 3 a.m. Saturday, wind was rattling the roof and the windows. "That's the sound of our lives changing forever," said Mike Aymond, a Calcasieu sheriff's deputy.
But, Deputy Aymond said: "It'd be a lot worse if New Orleans hadn't happened. People would have stayed."
Initial estimates by insurance experts put the damage from Hurricane Rita at $5 billion or less, far below the estimated $35 billion in damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a month ago and the $30 billion that had been feared had Galveston and Houston taken a direct hit.
"The areas of Texas and Louisiana where this came ashore was far less developed than the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi where Katrina struck," said Robert P. Hartwig, the chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group in New York. Hurricane Rita also struck with less force.
In Jefferson County, Tex., which includes Beaumont and Port Arthur, Carl Griffith, the county judge, estimated that only 10 percent to 15 percent of the county's 250,000 residents had stayed behind, compared with 40 percent in previous evacuations. In Cameron Parish, a low-lying area of bayous, farmland and fishing camps just south of Lake Charles, nearly all of the 9,000 residents had evacuated by late Friday. About 95 percent of the 200,000 residents in Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles, had evacuated, officials estimated.
In Beaumont, windows blew out of the ground floor of the Entergy building, which the county was using as a shelter and staging area for first responders, causing a drop in pressure throughout the building, the tallest in downtown. As the first rescue workers left, the wind continued to shake cars and drive horizontal sheets of rain.
The Houston police had confirmed 28 burglaries overnight and arrested 16 people, said Frank Michel, a spokesman for Mayor White. Eight of those arrested, four juveniles, three women and one man, were accused of looting a Target store. Three were arrested at a business on the city's southwest side, and one person was caught stealing beer from a convenience store, the police said.
Residents who had not evacuated were warned by the National Hurricane Center to remain in place until Hurricane Rita moved farther inland, because traveling, especially in cars, would be dangerous. In most evacuated areas, officials said it was not safe to return, except in Friendswood, Tex., a suburb of Houston.
On Saturday, Army helicopter crews from the First Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex., began flying Federal Emergency Management Agency teams whose job it was to gauge damage from the hurricane.
"The air crews are facilitating the movement of personnel to conduct assessments of the conditions in anticipation of the relief effort," said Maj. Greg Thompson, the First Air Cavalry Brigade executive officer. The military also sent five mortuary teams from New Orleans to Fort Sam Houston, Tex., and five other teams were placed on alert, according to a statement from the Northern Command, which manages the Pentagon's efforts in domestic emergency and relief missions. Those teams help recover and transport the dead.
By early Saturday, more than 50 helicopters, as well as other surveillance and transport planes, were available for damage assessment and search-and-rescue missions, according to a Northern Command statement.
Relief as Rita spares lives, refineries
By Allan Dowd 36 minutes ago
LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (Reuters) - Rescue teams hunted for people stranded in Louisiana's flooded Cajun country on Sunday, but officials expressed relief there was no major loss of life and that Hurricane Rita had largely spared the region's huge refineries.
The storm skimmed Houston, heart of the U.S. oil industry, when it slammed into the swampy Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday, but wind, pounding rain and surging floodwater badly damaged small cities and remote towns to the east.
Police, National Guard troops and an array of other rescue workers arrived quickly after the storm and there was no repeat of the shocking scenes of crime and chaos that besieged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck less than a month ago.
"It appears the refining industry, the oil and gas industry (suffered) a glancing blow at worst. Hopefully they'll be back in production very soon," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said on CNN.
He urged the nearly 3 million evacuees to "stay put" until water and sewage systems were checked out.
Rescuers renewed efforts to find some 80 people stranded in Abbeville, Pecan Island and Vermilion Bay, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Their task was made difficult by tropical storm force winds, low visibility and heavy rain.
Worries not only about property loss and the fate of family and friends but concerns about livestock drew several residents back, who then became trapped in storm surges.
In southern Louisiana, home to the French-speaking Cajun community and culture, some people clung to rooftops and oil tanks in water up to nine feet deep.
"We need to pray to the good lord to switch the wind's direction," Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan said.
FLOODS IN COASTAL LOUISIANA
Flood waters stood at up to 3 feet (1 meter) in Lake Charles, Louisiana, federal officials said.
Rita's storm surge was measured at 15-feet (4.5-metres). Couvillan said it reached his own ranch 35 miles inland and he feared all 80 of his cattle had been killed.
Most of the 1.4 million people along the southern Louisiana coast fled and were unlikely to be able to return for weeks. Shaken survivors found destroyed buildings, debris-strewn streets, downed power lines and toppled trees.
Rita had dumped up to a foot of rain and lashed the region with 120 mile per hour (192 kph) winds.
Worries arose over a natural gas installation in Louisiana known as Henry Hub, through which a third of U.S. natural gas flows and where spot gas prices are determined. Sabine Pipeline LLC denied report of a leak at the natural gas pipeline.
Rita and Katrina knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of U.S. refining capacity onshore. Rita damaged at least three oil refineries, oil companies said.George W. Bush was slated to meet in Baton Rouge on Sunday with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who took an early morning aerial tour of the coast, officials said.
Rita cut power to more than 2 million people in Texas and Louisiana. Utility companies said it could take a month to fully restore electricity.
BILLIONS IN DAMAGES, HOW TO PAY?
Preliminary figures showed Rita caused estimated damage of more than $8 billion, the Texas governor said on CNN.
Hurricane Katrina, which hit Mississippi and Louisiana, and left New Orleans in ruins, caused up to $60 billion in insured damages alone.
In Washington, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain called for cuts in so-called pork-barrel spending to help pay for hurricane clean-up and disaster preparations.
"Can't we sacrifice one bike path, one horse trail, one bridge to nowhere?," he said, speaking on ABC's "This Week."
"The American people right now are sacrificing as we speak," he said. "They doing everything they can to help and in Washington, it's business as usual."
Texas Gov. Perry said he expected the federal government to "pay fully the cost of this."
Katrina killed more than a thousand people, but there was only one death directly related to Rita -- a person killed by a tornado in Belzoni, Mississippi. Twenty-three people also died in a bus that caught fire during the massive evacuation.
In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to plug levees fractured by Katrina. But parts of the mostly empty city were again covered by up to 12 feet of water.
Vice Adm. Thad Allen, head of the federal Katrina recovery efforts, said it could take until June to rebuild the levees.
"We should be eternally worried until the levee structure has been repaired to pre-Katrina heights, and then the final decisions on what that levee system needs to be to create the boundary conditions for a new city of New Orleans," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst and Michael Christie in Baton Rouge, Jeff Franks in Houston, Andy Sullivan in New Orleans, Kenneth Li in Beaumont and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin
|updated 9-19-05 - HURRICANE
SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 3
OPHELIA HITS NORTH CAROLINA AFTER SPARING FLORIDA
updated 10-5-05 - HURRICANE
SEASON OF 2005 - PAGE 2
updated 8-11-05 - HURRICANE
SEASON of 2005-PAGE 1