Hurricane Rita to Hit Category 4, Hit Gulf Wednesday
Hurricane Rita is now predicted to hit Category 4 and hit the Gulf Coast tomorrow afternoon, moving faster and getting stronger than forecasters believed just hours ago.
Rapidly strengthening Hurricane Rita lashed the Florida Keys on Tuesday and headed into the Gulf of Mexico, where forecasters feared it could develop into another blockbuster storm targeting Texas or Louisiana. Thousands of people were evacuated from the Keys and low-lying areas of northern Cuba. On the far side of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Galveston started evacuations and officials made plans to move refugees from Hurricane Katrina who had been housed in the Houston area to Arkansas.
Forecasters said Rita could intensify in the Gulf of Mexico into a Category 4 storm with winds of at least 131 mph. The most likely destination by week’s end was Texas, although Louisiana and northern Mexico were possibilities, according to the hurricane center.
Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison told reporters that the agency has aircraft and buses available to evacuate residents of areas the hurricane might hit. Rescue teams and truckloads of ice, water and prepared meals were being sent to Texas and Florida. “I strongly urge Gulf coast residents to pay attention” to the storm, he said.
Stung by criticism of the government’s slow initial response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush signed an emergency declaration for Florida and spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry about planning for the storm’s landfall. “All up and down the coastline people are now preparing for what is anticipated to be another significant storm,” Bush said.
Recall that most of the damage from Katrina was from flooding and by the unique geography and infrastructure of New Orleans. Still, even a modest storm surge would be greatly magnified in regions that haven’t yet dried out from the last storm.