One million ordered away from Texas coast - Rita hits cat. 5
Last Updated Wed, 21 Sep 2005 16:45:06 EDT
Hospitals and nursing homes were evacuated and up to one million along the Gulf Coast were ordered out Wednesday as hurricane Rita turned into a 265 km/h monster that could pound Texas and bring more damage and heartache to New Orleans.
Forecasters predict Rita could come ashore Saturday along the central Texas coast between Galveston and Corpus Christi. But even a slight rightward turn could prove devastating to New Orleans.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Rita strengthened into a Category 5 storm on Wednesday afternoon. Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and one of the most powerful to slam into the U.S. mainland.
All of Galveston, vulnerable sections of Houston and Corpus Christi and the damaged New Orleans were under mandatory evacuation orders, one day after Rita caused minor damage when it sideswiped the Florida Keys as a much weaker storm.
The 267,000 people in Galveston County have been ordered out. Galveston island has no land much more than two-metres above water level.
In 1900, between 6,000 and 12,000 were killed when a hurricane hit Galveston. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history, it practically wiped the low-lying city off the map.
Low-lying, flood-prone areas of Houston, which at its lowest point is only two metres above sea level, were ordered evacuated. The Houston mayors' office said as many as 1 million people in the Houston-Galveston area were under orders to get out.
Along the Louisiana coast, some 20,000 people or more were being evacuated or were warned to leave.
Earlier Wednesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry warned residents of the Texas coast to get out now before Rita hits. Perry said a long stretch of his state's Gulf coast should be evacuated immediately.
The governor said: "Homes and businesses can be rebuilt. Lives cannot. If you're on the coast between Beaumont and Corpus Christi, now's the time to leave."
Beaumont is near Louisiana in eastern Texas and Corpus Christi is near Mexico in the southwest part of the state.
The last major hurricane to hit Texas was Alicia in 1983. It flooded downtown Houston, spawned 22 tornadoes and left 21 people dead. The damage from the Category 3 storm was put at more than $2 billion.
Tropical Storm Allison flooded Houston in 2001, doing major damage to hospitals and research centers and killing 23 people.
If Rita comes ashore anywhere near Galveston or Corpus Christi, the potential to knock out a whole bunch of America's oil production infrastructure is very high. The estimates are that around 25% of the United States' domestic production goes through the refineries around Galveston. This couldn't have come at a worse time. Keep your fingers crossed that everyone stays safe and we don't see yet another price spike after the weekend.