Storm triggers mass US evacuation
BBC | September 22 2005
More than one million people have begun to evacuate the Gulf Coast of the United States ahead of Hurricane Rita.
The storm, which has been upgraded to Category Five, is heading towards Texas with winds of 175mph (280km/h).
Meteorologists say the hurricane could be the most intense ever to hit Texas, and one of the most powerful seen on the US mainland.
President George Bush has declared a state of emergency in Texas and neighbouring Louisiana.
He called on people to heed evacuation orders, adding: "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst."
Rita was upgraded twice on Wednesday, as it gathered strength over the warm, shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The eye of the storm was about 515 miles (830km) south-east of Galveston, Texas, at 0900 GMT on Thursday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Moving at about 9mph (15km/h), Rita is expected to hit Texas on Saturday "as a major hurricane... at least Category Three".
Category Five is the highest level on the scale. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans last month, was a Category Four storm when it hit land.
On the move
In Texas, residents have been ordered to leave Galveston and parts of Houston and Corpus Christi.
The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Galveston says most of the residents seem to have left, leaving behind homes and business with boarded windows.
Several thousand Louisiana residents who found shelter in Texas after their homes were wrecked by Hurricane Katrina are being uprooted again and moved to Arkansas and Tennessee.
Houston Mayor Bill White has warned there are not enough government vehicles to evacuate everyone in the affected areas, and urged friends and neighbours to help.
"Everyone's scared, that's why we're all leaving," Galveston resident Maria Stephens told the Reuters news agency.
Referring to television images of Hurricane Katrina, she said: "I saw the people at the shelters and the bodies floating in the water. I don't want that to be my family."
Although New Orleans is not in the likely path of the storm, engineers are racing to repair the city's levee system, for fear that rain from Rita could cause yet more floods.
US authorities said that more than 70% of oil production in the Gulf has been shut down.
The US space agency Nasa has announced the closure of the Johnson Space Centre in Houston and has transferred control of the international space station to Russia.
Federal authorities, much criticised over their response to Katrina, have put emergency workers and medical teams on alert. Lorries filled with water, ice, food and medical supplies are on standby.
Precautionary measures have also been taken along the east coast of Mexico.
On Wednesday, the confirmed number of deaths from Hurricane Katrina surpassed 1,000 to reach 1,036, of which 799 were in Louisiana.
In Florida, thousands of residents who fled the hurricane have returned to their homes.
The storm, which passed through the Florida Keys on Tuesday as a Category Three hurricane, caused minor flooding and power cuts, and winds damaged buildings and infrastructure.
Hurricane Rita also lashed Cuba, where some 58,000 people were evacuated from the northern coast and more than 6,000 in Havana alone, Cuban officials said.
The hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November