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History > USA > 2005 > Natural disasters > Hurricane Rita

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Rita is seen south of Florida moving northwest

 

Photograph:NOAA

 

NYT

20.9.20005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This satellite image was taken at 9:15 a.m. Eastern time

 

Photograph: NOAA via Getty Images

 

NYT

22.9.2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This satellite image was taken at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time on Friday.

 

Photograph: NOAA

 

NYT

Friday 23rd, September 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eye of Hurricane Rita hit land

at about 3:40 a.m. EST just east of Sabine Pass, Tex.

NYT

added Sunday 25th, September 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans restaurants

back to business

 

Thu Oct 6, 2005 12:10 PM ET
Reuters
By Nichola Groom

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' famed restaurants, faced with a city-wide curfew, undrinkable water, and few if any waiters and waitresses, are struggling to get back to business.

Eager to feed shell-shocked locals returning to a city where even supermarkets are still closed, restaurant owners are disinfecting refrigerators, stocking up on bottled water, and putting up displaced workers in hotel rooms.

"Right now we are just trying to get people away from Domino's Pizza," said Roy Barre, general manager of the French Quarter Italian restaurant Bacco, which opened on Saturday. The restaurant is not making any money, but Barre said that getting locals back through its doors was his top priority.

Bacco's cooks are using bottled water and several workers are living in a neighboring hotel. Dishes like truffle fettuccine have been replaced with grilled meats since neither imported goods nor gas for its burners are yet available. Bacco does have electricity, and a wood-fired pizza oven.

The upscale restaurant has also added several new drinks -- the Katrina Rita (tequila, triple sec, lemon-lime juice and blue Curacao) and the Category 5 (nothing more than a shot of Bacardi 151 rum).

Other than having to wait for state health inspections before they can reopen, restaurants said staffing is their biggest challenge.

"Most of the people returning are business owners and salaried workers," said David Roach, a manager at Table One in New Orleans' Garden District. "Most of the hourly people are finding work in other cities."

 

LURING BACK STAFF

To help lure back workers, New Orleans-area Burger King restaurants are paying higher wages than they did before Hurricane Katrina. The burger chain is also offering employees bonuses of $500 at the end of every month for up to a year, according to Myrna Schultz, vice president of marketing and development for Burger King's New Orleans-area franchisee, Strategic Restaurants Acquisition Corp.

"As more and more restaurants and retail establishments open up ... we have to be more creative," Schultz said. "We want (employees) to stay put rather than go to a competitor."

At Arnaud's, one of the oldest and ritziest restaurants in the French Quarter, some workers returned this week to begin emptying rotten food from refrigerators and cleaning them, ripping up moldy carpets, and taking a painstaking inventory of plates, glasses, pots and pans.

Archie Casbarian, the restaurant's owner, is paying the hourly workers who have come back daily in cash and said he does not want to reopen until clean water is available.

"I don't want to take any chances," Casbarian said. "Everything is going to go through our dish machine about a million times."

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is requiring new inspections before restaurants can reopen, and certified eateries are given bright yellow placards informing customers that they are clean and safe.

More than 80 restaurants in Orleans Parish have already been certified, most in the lightly hit Algiers neighborhood, according to DHH spokeswoman Kristen Meyer.

Teams of inspectors, however, are working quickly to get more restaurants cleared to open, Meyer added. On Tuesday alone, over 40 restaurants in Orleans parish were inspected, though only 27 met the state's criteria.

Some restaurants, however, are operating without the yellow certificates. Table One, for instance, was open for a few days before a certificate appeared in its window.

The city's 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew also does not appear to be hurting business. Roach said many of Table One's customers were police who stick around well past the curfew.

"They are happy to see a restaurant open," he said. "They aren't going to shut us down."

    New Orleans restaurants back to business, R, 6.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-06T161007Z_01_DIT652028_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-RESTAURANTS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Jobless claims blown higher by hurricanes

 

Thu Oct 6, 2005 8:57 AM ET
Reuters

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by a higher-than-expected 21,000 last week as the scale of hurricane-related applications increased, government data showed on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment aid rose to 390,000 from an upwardly revised 369,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. Wall Street had forecast 370,000 new claims. The prior week's claims were initially reported at 356,000.

U.S. Treasury bond prices ticked higher on the news, with investors wary of any evidence that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will deliver a bigger hit to growth than initially thought.

"The number of jobless claims was higher than expected, but we should all be prepared for surprises in the economic data for the next couple of months," said Patrick Fearon, senior economist at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis.

Unadjusted for seasonal factors, jobless claims linked to Katrina and Rita totaled 74,000 last week, up from 70,000 the prior week, a Labor Department analyst said.

The running total of claims due to the twin storms now stands at 363,000, but economists are reluctant to place too much faith in data that has been so badly distorted.

"The hurricanes were so big and disruptive that it would be hard to accurately gauge what the impact of them will be on the data until a couple of months have passed," said Fearon.

The claims data come on the eve of the September employment report but were gathered after that survey was conducted and won't impact the numbers.

The monthly jobs report will be the first major government report to gauge the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the labor market and is expected to show a loss of 129,000 jobs.

"So far, the economic damage from the storms have not extended far from the storm areas. Claims have been stable outside of the affected regions," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths weekly volatility to provide a better sense of underlying job-market trends, rose by 15,750 to 404,500 last week, the Labor Department said. This was the highest reading since September 2003, when it was 404,750.

The total number of unemployed still on the benefit rolls after an initial week of aid climbed by 118,000 to 2.905 million in the week ended September 24, the latest week for which figures are available.

    Jobless claims blown higher by hurricanes, R, 6.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=businessNews&storyID=2005-10-06T125659Z_01_MOR646573_RTRUKOC_0_US-ECONOMY.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Some 144,000

still without power in US Gulf:

Entergy

 

Wed Oct 5, 2005 12:14 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Entergy Corp. restored electric service to more than 622,000 customers in Texas and Louisiana by early Wednesday, leaving about 144,000 without power due to Hurricane Rita which struck two weeks ago, the company said in a release.

The company said 36,000 customers remained without service in Louisiana and 107,000 in Texas.

Entergy said the outages in Louisiana did not include more than 156,000 customers in the New Orleans area who were unable to accept service following Hurricane Katrina due to significant repair or reconstruction requirements.

In Texas, Entergy said, it expects to make a significant amount of progress during the next several days as more power plants and transmission equipment returns to service but cautioned it will take several weeks to restore service to all customers.

Entergy owns and/or operates 14 generating units in the area affected by Rita.

Of the 14, Entergy said, seven were operational -- both units at the 466-megawatt Lewis Creek natural gas/oil-fired station in Texas, both units at the 80 MW Toledo Bend hydro station in Texas, and three units at the 1,416 MW Roy S. Nelson gas/oil/coal-fired station in Louisiana.

Of the seven units still out of service, two units are available for service once the company restores offsite power -- both at the 1,890 MW Sabine gas/oil station in Texas -- and five units remain offline until the company completes storm damage repairs (three at Sabine and two at Nelson).

Entergy said it restored a major transmission line to the Sabine plant over the weekend and expects one unit will go into operation in the next couple of days.

One MW powers about 800 homes, according to North American averages.

The company has a work force of 13,000 linemen and tree trimmers, plus about 3,000 support personnel, committed to restoring service.

Entergy has about 138 transmission lines and 128 substations out of service.

Entergy's subsidiaries own and operate about 30,000 megawatts of generating capacity, market energy commodities, and transmit and distribute power to 2.6 million customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

    Some 144,000 still without power in US Gulf: Entergy, R, 5.10.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-10-05T161439Z_01_KRA558457_RTRUKOT_0_TEXT0.xml&related=true

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor Announces Layoffs of City Workers

 

October 5, 2005
The New York Times
By CHRISTINE HAUSER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 4 - The mayor of this battered city said Tuesday that about half of its 6,000 public employees would be laid off because there was not enough money to meet the payroll.

"Today it's with great sadness that we announce that we were unable to hold on to some of our dedicated city workers," Mayor C. Ray Nagin said.

The layoffs - emergency leave without pay - will begin Oct. 8 and leave about 3,000 nonessential workers unemployed when completed in about two weeks. Final paychecks will be issued this month.

Workers in essential services like fire, police, emergency medical, and sewage and water services will not be affected, the mayor's communications director, Sally Forman, said.

Employees in recreation, parks, economic development, housing, finance, technology and law, and other departments will bear the brunt. "You have cuts across the board," Ms. Forman said.

Mr. Nagin made the announcement at a news conference just one day after the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, met with the heads of parishes to assess how much money would be needed to meet payrolls in areas where the tax base has been devastated.

Ms. Blanco said yesterday that she wanted Congress or President Bush to change the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act regulations to allow funds to pay regular salaries and not just emergency-related overtime of public employees.

Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Tuesday that Congress had important work to do responding to the destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"I've also made it clear we must do so in a fiscally responsible way," he said. "Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending. I'll work with members of Congress to identify offsets and to free up money for the reconstruction efforts."

In addition to the New Orleans layoffs, which Mr. Nagin said were an initial cut, the mayor said he was also asking the state to offer bonds to finance some of the city's debt. "I'm hoping those two actions will give us flexibility," he said.

The mayor said the city had checked with federal financial sources, state sources, local banks and other financial institutions but was unable to maintain staffing at current levels.

He said that the city payroll was about $20 million a month and that the cuts would shave about $5 million to $8 million of that amount. "We cannot afford to keep a full complement of city workers under our present financial conditions," he said.

There had been no talk of cutting city jobs before the storms, Ms. Forman said.

Just last week, Mr. Nagin had laid out plans to open most of New Orleans to residents, an effort that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita, by allowing people to return to all neighborhoods except the Lower Ninth Ward, which he said was still flooded.

Mr. Nagin said Tuesday that about 50,000 people were on the west bank and about 30,000 on the east bank, and that the city could handle many more. Water tests were still being conducted and levees repaired.

On Wednesday, almost all the city's areas will be open for residents to inspect their property, the mayor said, with some of the Ninth Ward still closed. People will be kept off the streets from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Many city employees, like other New Orleans residents, lost their homes and evacuated. Others stayed behind and resumed work, to some extent, in their former jobs, cleaning up and maintaining the sites. They were housed in cruise ships along the New Orleans Riverwalk.

City employees said Tuesday that the announcement added to an air of uncertainty, aggravating already dire conditions of homelessness with looming unemployment.

A city accountant, Melvin Harrison, 60, said he and other workers were last paid on Friday. "We don't know what we are going to do," he said at the pier where the cruise ships are docked. "It will be devastating to a lot of us who have to support families."

Abraham Jackson, a security guard in the city's parks, said he spent his time now helping in the cleanup. But he did not expect to return to his former job. "We do not know if we will be employed today, tomorrow or the next day," Mr. Jackson said.

A firefighter who asked not to be identified said, "It's very unfortunate what happened, but I also understand the other side."

"The city is bankrupt," the firefighter added, saying that there were now 6 or 7 firefighting bases in the city where once there had been more than 40.

All city workers will receive paychecks on Oct. 14, and the departing nonessential members of the support staff of the Police and Fire Departments will get their final pay on Oct. 21.

Mr. Nagin said employees to be laid off would be given written notice, contacted through address- changes notices, federal databases and e-mail messages.

Many are among the homeless spread out after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.

"It's tough," Mr. Nagin said. "It's really tough."

    Mayor Announces Layoffs of City Workers, NYT, 5.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/05/national/nationalspecial/05orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Lends His Expertise

and an Ear in Louisiana

 

October 5, 2005
The New York Times
By STEPHANIE STROM

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Oct. 4 - He kissed babies, hugged their parents, felt their pain and smiled for cellphone photos. Bill Clinton was back in his element on Tuesday on a tour of Louisiana, and at times even seemed to forget his status as a former president.

"I'll get on that," he assured a man trying to square the abundance of supplies he had seen delivered to the shelter with the paucity of blankets and mouthwash inside.

The setting Tuesday was a Red Cross shelter here, not a political rally, and his role was as a budding philanthropist, not a politician.

Mr. Clinton is on a two-day tour of the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina as part of his efforts, along with former President George Bush, to collect money for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and spend it on storm victims and their communities.

"We drew in a lot of money," Mr. Clinton said, "but what we want to try to do is set up a system to fund things the government won't fund or can't fund."

He got an earful from shelter residents about frustrations in their new lives, like times when the showers are shut off and what they see as a bureaucracy keeping them from a semblance of their old lives.

"Seems like every time you talk to someone, all they do is shrug their shoulders or say be patient, be patient," said Robert Warner, who fled New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina and then had to flee his refuge in Lake Charles, La., as Hurricane Rita approached.

He recounted several searing experiences to Mr. Clinton, including the failure of law enforcement and emergency medical workers to remove a dead body from a high school cafeteria where he had taken shelter.

"I'd rather have you tell me you can't do anything for me than promise me something you can't deliver," Mr. Warner told Mr. Clinton.

After a formal meeting with a group of shelter residents, Mr. Clinton spent more than an hour strolling through the shelter and chatting with residents about their problems. He later met with state and federal officials, including Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, who is in charge of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and politely complained about the seeming confusion among residents about what they could get from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and where to get it.

"It seems to me that with all the money being spent, it's almost worth $100,000 in mistakes to give people some relief," Mr. Clinton said.

Running two hours late, Mr. Clinton flew by helicopter to New Orleans, where he toured the Ninth Ward, which sustained some of the worst damage. Piles of wood that were once homes lay between houses that seemed relatively unscathed, and most of the homes bore markings that indicated no dead had been found inside.

Former President Bush plans to make a similar tour of the area next week. Lest anyone get the idea that the two former presidents are not friendly, Mr. Clinton explained that Mr. Bush's schedule did not allow travel this week and that his partner's plans next week coincided with his own 30th wedding anniversary.

"I like you folks a lot, but if I miss that, I'd be in more trouble than you can imagine," he said.

Mr. Clinton will travel to Mississippi and Alabama on Wednesday, determined to do firsthand assessments before distributing money on behalf of tens of thousands of small donors and corporations.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana has already asked that the fund help finance a new program, the Family Assistance Corps. That program would assign a caseworker to each family still in need of assistance and help them navigate the thicket of federal, state and private programs that can provide money and other services.

"I hope we can do it," Mr. Clinton said. "I think it's a good plan."

He invited similar proposals from the other officials and politicians he met with. They peppered him with questions he was no longer in a position to answer, like why large lots of state land were not being used to erect housing for the victims and why out-of-state companies employing out-of-state workers had gotten the bulk of federal financing so far.

"If you have ideas where you know things are going to fall through the cracks, let us know," Mr. Clinton said.

    Clinton Lends His Expertise and an Ear in Louisiana, NYT, 5.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/05/national/nationalspecial/05clinton.html

 

 

 

 

 

Population Loss

Altering Louisiana Political Landscape

 

October 4, 2005
The New York Times
By JEREMY ALFORD

 

BATON ROUGE, La., Oct. 3 - The two recent gulf hurricanes may result in a significant loss of population for Louisiana, and state officials are now virtually certain that Louisiana will lose a Congressional seat - along with federal financing and national influence - after the 2010 census.

Having dislodged more than a million people in southern Louisiana alone, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita are also likely to alter the state's political landscape, demographers and political experts say, reducing the domination of New Orleans over the State Legislature and increasing the influence of suburban and rural areas.

With a low-wage economy and consistently poor educational performance, Louisiana was losing population even before the hurricanes. The state had a net loss of more than 75,000 people from 1995 to 2000, according to census figures. But the physical and psychological damage inflicted by the hurricanes could push tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people out of the state for good, state officials say, comparable only to the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and possibly the 1927 floods.

"I'm not sure if history is going to help us with this because we've never had anything like it," said Karen Paterson, the state demographer. "But we have not shown a positive net migration in many years. I would expect that we would experience a significant loss of population statewide."

With evacuees now making decisions on whether to plant roots elsewhere, and the geographical future of New Orleans in question, it is impossible to say with any precision how many people will be in Louisiana at the end of the decade. A dependable number will have to wait until the 2010 census.

The numbers available now, however, are staggering. About 1.5 million people were initially evacuated from the damaged regions, roughly 1 million have applied for hurricane-related federal aid, 30,000 are in out-of-state shelters, 46,400 are in in-state shelters and 932 people have perished in the storms. Officials are unsure how many people are staying in hotels or with family and friends.

Many here were already expecting Louisiana to lose one of its seven Congressional seats because of existing out-migration and high growth rates in other states, but the impact of the hurricanes has solidified fears.

Glenn Koepp, secretary of the Louisiana State Senate and one of the main officials in the state's redistricting office, said Louisiana had fallen so far behind other states that even if it managed to increase by 7,000 people in the next five years, it would still lose a Congressional seat.

Elliott Stonecipher, a political analyst and demographer based in Shreveport, said the state faced a long-term reduction in federal aid as its population diminishes.

"The result is direct," said Mr. Stonecipher, who was formerly an assistant superintendent with the state Department of Education. "With the loss of population there will be a matching loss of revenue. You pick it. Look at education, whether it be Title IX or special education. This will be devastating."

Many politicians are also keeping a close eye on population movement within the state.

Within 48 hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Baton Rouge became Louisiana's largest city, doubling to about 800,000 residents. Local officials are now trying to get a population survey up and running to seek federal aid.

Mr. Koepp said this population shift could actually be the early stages of the deterioration of New Orleans' long-term hold over the State Legislature. "If this holds true, there will be a significant political change," he said.

There are now 21 seats in the House and Senate that encompass or touch on Orleans Parish, of 144 total seats statewide.

But if the population fails to return to the parish in coming years, New Orleans may be confined to just a few seats in each chamber through redistricting, Mr. Koepp added. That could change the state's racial and partisan balance.

If evacuees from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans - a reliable bloc of 30,000 black voters that is traditionally easy to mobilize - choose suburban or rural areas over their urban roots in coming years, it could be a political blow to Democrats, said Roy Fletcher, a political consultant from Shreveport who helped elect former Gov. Mike Foster, a Republican.

"It would give a whole lot of a stronger foothold to Republicans in the Legislature and statewide," Mr. Fletcher said. "Louisiana has always been a swing state, a purple state that's both blue and red. You take the Ninth Ward out of that equation and you get a real shot of Republicans winning statewide office."

Barry Erwin, president of a Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that monitors the activities of state government, said such a change could forever alter the political landscape.

"These things are symbolic of a divide that we've always had," he said. "There's an us versus them thing. In New Orleans, it's like us, and then there's the rest of the state. Around the rest of the state, it's like us, and then there's New Orleans. This could change all of that."

    Population Loss Altering Louisiana Political Landscape, NYT, 4.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/04/national/nationalspecial/04census.html

 

 

 

 

 


Local Governments

Face Bankruptcy, Layoffs or Both

 

October 4, 2005
The New York Times
By JENNIFER MEDINA
and CHRISTINE HAUSER

 

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 3 - Officials in this stricken city are considering laying off as many as 3,000 employees - nearly 40 percent of city hall's workforce - to balance the budget. In nearby St. Bernard Parish, 120 municipal employees have already lost their jobs and the parish president is begging for federal assistance to make payroll.

The proposed cutbacks and pleas for aid illustrate one legacy of the two hurricanes that lashed the Gulf Coast: with storm losses crippling the economy, municipal governments in southern Louisiana are quickly running out of money and are now seeking federal aid to avoid bankruptcy or huge layoffs and reductions in city services.

"We are asking for help to survive," said Henry Rodriguez, the president of St. Bernard Parish, where some 80 percent of the houses are likely to have to be knocked down because of damage. "We have to let our workers go. Those people that are coming back into the parish will have no services whatsoever."

Presidents of dozens of parishes hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita met with Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco at the Capitol in Baton Rouge on Monday, determining how much money would be needed to pay for critical services to repopulate areas devastated by the storms.

Local officials say their tax base has been obliterated since the storms hit the state in the last five weeks. Greg Albrecht, the state's chief economist, told the Legislature last week that at least 120,000 jobs would be lost because of the storm, most in the southern part of the state.

Even as businesses and residents have begun to return to the New Orleans area, there is little open for regular business. In St. Bernard Parish, there are no businesses open, Mr. Rodriguez said, completely wiping out the tax base.

Workers standing outside New Orleans City Hall on Monday, many of them returning to work for the first time in more than a month, were shocked at the prospect of layoffs.

Most of them had not heard of the possibility of losing their jobs.

Several said they were still trying to find out whether their supervisors and colleagues were coming back to the city from temporary homes in Houston, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La.

City agencies responsible for public safety in New Orleans, including the police, the fire department and emergency medical services, will be spared the brunt of any cuts, said Sally Forman, a spokeswoman for Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

Other services critical to rebuilding the city, including health, electrical and sewerage departments, may also be protected from the largest cuts. But employees deemed nonessential are likely to be the hardest hit.

"We're facing major budgetary issues while we begin to try to get things back to normal," Ms. Forman said. "We'd like to be able to fund city services, but knowing that until we have a tax base again, we're not going to have a city government that we should."

It is unclear how many municipal employees in New Orleans have already returned to their jobs in the city, or plan to do so. The city last paid its workers on Friday. In St. Bernard, Mr. Rodriguez estimated that the parish had only enough money for another two pay periods. The city's total operating budget is $57 million.

Some of the most lucrative tax bases in the rural parishes surrounding New Orleans have been wiped out. While oil and gas prices are soaring, production has been crippled along Louisiana's coastline; officials say about 97 percent of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is still shut down.

Under current federal regulations, the aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides local governments is limited to overtime for public employees dealing with an emergency. But Governor Blanco and local leaders are asking Congress to waive those regulations and provide money to parishes for as long as they need to stay solvent.

"I don't think that we've seen a catastrophic event like this before where local governments were completely devastated and in some cases lost their entire tax base," Governor Blanco said. "This is a unique situation and that's why we're asking for a unique response."

Mike McCormick, a spokesman for FEMA, said that the federal government had historically paid only the "extraordinary costs" of local governments and that the agency could not change this policy unilaterally.

With conservatives in Congress already complaining about spending levels, it was not clear how the request would be received.

The number of dead in Louisiana now stands at 964.

Responding to widespread criticism, the White House on Monday rescinded the $250,000 limit it had placed on federal government credit cards for use in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

In instructions issued to government agencies, the Office of Management and Budget restored the usual $2,500 limit for so-called micropurchases.

The limit can be raised to $15,000 under some circumstances. An emergency appropriations bill passed early last month had increased the ceiling to $250,000 for Hurricane Katrina recovery needs.

Jennifer Medina reported from New Orleans for this article, and Christine Hauser from Baton Rouge. Jeremy Alford contributed reporting from Baton Rouge, and Scott Shane from Washington.

    Local Governments Face Bankruptcy, Layoffs or Both, NYT, 4.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/04/national/nationalspecial/04orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Stravato for The New York Times        3.10.2005

 

Judy White,

under a photograph of her parents in their Houston home on Friday,

lost her father, London England,

an 86-year-old radio and television pioneer, in the bus explosion.

 

Luck and Fate Placed Victims on Storm Bus        NYT        3.10.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/national/nationalspecial/03bus.html
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


Luck and Fate

Placed Victims on Storm Bus

 

October 3, 2005
The New York Times
By JANE GROSS and LAURA GRIFFIN

 

BELLAIRE, Tex., Sept. 29 - Edna Briant, 87, marveled that the bus was so big and luxurious and that there was so much to see along the way. "As tired as I was, I wanted to stay awake," Miss Briant said, "because it was like going on a tour passing all those Wal-Marts and McDonald's."

She was seated in the second row, next to her sister, Claire, 84, both evacuating this Houston suburb as Hurricane Rita approached, just two weeks after they fled New Orleans and the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina.

In the row behind them was Harry Reynolds, 68, an amputee, who used a vacant seat to elevate what was left of his right leg. A few rows back sat 68-year-old Natalie Lenzner, who had terminal brain cancer, settling in for what would prove to be a 15-hour ride to Dallas.

The Briant sisters and Mr. Reynolds would survive a deadly explosion, ignited by oxygen canisters, that left the bus a charred husk and became a defining image of Hurricane Rita.

Mrs. Lenzner would perish, one of 23 frail residents of a home for the aged who died escaping a hurricane that, as fate would have it, killed nobody in the Houston area except those running from its predicted fury.

Who lives and who dies in a disaster is often a matter of happenstance, and so it was for the people on this bus, all residents of Brighton Gardens, owned by Sunrise Senior Living, a company based in Virginia. But here, the destiny of these passengers, so dependent on others, was determined by many people who planned for them.

Local emergency officials urged the nursing home to evacuate. The governor of Texas waived normal regulations to put more buses on the road. Family members either followed the advice of Brighton Gardens' administrator to take their loved ones home or they made other plans, perhaps because their own houses were in the path of the storm.

Sixty-one residents removed by their families did just fine, and 16 others were safely evacuated to Arlington, Tex. But 37 with special medical needs - the Briant sisters, Mr. Reynolds and Mrs. Lenzner among them - were put on a bus at 3 p.m. on Sept. 22, bound for another Sunrise center in Dallas. Many needed wheelchairs, oxygen or dialysis, and some were lost in the fog of Alzheimer's disease.

Had their trip been uneventful, as it was until 6 a.m. that Friday, just 22 miles shy of their destination, there would be no second-guessing, no what-ifs, no probing the practices of a tiny bus company. Those concerns have consumed many people: Caretakers who agonize that they did not do enough. Lawyers seeking recompense or retribution. Family members who envisioned gentle departures for their relatives.

But in the aftermath of tragedy, peace may come easier for the very old. The 14 who survived, when 23 of their companions perished, are taking small pleasure in their remaining days rather than revisiting the moment with grief counselors.

 

A Sense of Adventure

Edna Briant's task on the bus trip was to look after her sister, Claire, who was oblivious to most of what was going on because of her advanced dementia. "She didn't understand about fire or putting on her shoes, or whether to leave her purse behind," Miss Briant said.

The sisters were evacuating for the second time in two weeks, sent to Brighton Gardens from their shared New Orleans apartment at a Sunrise center that was swamped once by Hurricane Katrina, again by levee breaches during Hurricane Rita, and is now in ruins.

Virtually everything the two women owned was lost in the storms. Now the rest is gone, including Miss Briant's last $75, her Medicaid card, her checkbook and the key to a safety deposit box in New Orleans, all incinerated on the bus.

Mr. Reynolds, a barrel-chested man, was charmed, he said, by "them little bitty girls" who passed an apple back and forth during the bus ride, alternating bites. He was already lying on the roadside when Edna was carried off the bus, flung over a rescuer's shoulder, and placed beside him.

"Prop her up on my good leg," Mr. Reynolds requested. That way Edna could see her if her sister was all right.

Miss Briant did not ask about the others on the bus, not at the scene or later, after the group was flown from Dallas back to Houston on a flight reserved for the survivors and a dozen babies who had been evacuated from a foster care center.

Rather, she regaled nurses and a reporter who visited her room with an animated account of her great airplane adventure. Going through airport security, patted down and wanded, was a new experience. An 11-day-old foster child was "cute as can be," and Claire got to hold the baby. The flight attendants passed out goody bags with balloons shaped like airplanes and gave the old people pilots' wings, just as they do for children.

Back home at Brighton Gardens on Thursday, Miss Briant was looking forward to her exercise classes, and to gardening, especially watering the Christmas cactus. But that activity was canceled, much to Miss Briant's disappointment, because of a session with a grief counselor.

"A man came to talk to us, but nobody understood him," she said.

 

A History With Hurricanes

London England, 86, a pioneer of early radio and television in Texas had been at Brighton Gardens for only three weeks, recovering from a broken hip when he was carried onto the bus.

He was not fortunate enough to be carried off.

The man with the unforgettable name had spent his lifetime telling and retelling an unforgettable story about hurricanes: his wife's grandfather had died while riding out "the big one" that wiped out Galveston in 1900.

It was family lore, and he told it whenever he had a chance - how his grandfather-in-law was found dead in his house by his son. How everyone else had gotten out, but he had refused to leave.

So when Hurricane Rita approached Houston, Judy White, Mr. England's daughter, was not taking any chances. She made sure her father had what she thought was a safe exit in place, and then she and her family fled.

"There was no question that we'd all evacuate," said Ms. White, 56, who was staying at her father's house because her own home in New Orleans had just been destroyed by Katrina. "We have a long history with hurricanes."

She and her husband, their daughter and dog "sat in traffic for 14 hours and never left the city limits," she said.

Sweltering in 100 degree heat, starting to run out of gas, and thus reluctant to use the air conditioning, she turned around and went back to her father's home. She recalls feeling confident in her decision, thinking how much better her father would be on the cool, comfortable bus.

It took days to confirm Mr. England was dead and begin planning his military funeral.

"We knew who got on the bus and who didn't get off the bus," Ms. White said.

"I'm just hoping he was asleep."

Harry Wilson, 78, had never planned to sit in the front of the bus. He had wanted to be near his best friend, Natalie Lenzner, who had shared with him the indignities of age and illness. Both quietly knew she was most likely making her final journey.

Mrs. Lenzner was already situated several rows back, and getting Mr. Wilson on board would be difficult since he was 6 feet tall and 189 pounds, and paralyzed on the left side from a stroke. So his daughter, Eileen Kisluk, a lawyer in Houston, suggested that firefighters carry him on last.

Neither Ms. Kisluk nor her mother, Bernice Wilson, thought they could take care of Mr. Wilson in a Category 5 hurricane, which Rita was predicted to be. They needed to prepare their own homes for the storm and asked Jeffrey, Mr. Wilson's oldest child and an architect in Tampa, to fly to Dallas to meet his father with "a friendly face" when he got off the bus.

Mrs. Lenzner's husband, Richard, 71, was also afraid to bring his wife home, knowing the power might go off and she would suffer needlessly, said the Lenzners' daughter, Michelle Tell. So Mrs. Lenzner went on the bus and her husband followed behind in his car, with Mr. Wilson's wheelchair in the trunk.

The evacuation gave Mr. Wilson his first chance to travel since his stroke, and Mrs. Lenzner was looking forward to seeing her daughter and possibly being in Dallas for the birth of her second grandchild, two weeks away.

Because he was in the front row, Mr. Wilson was the first person carried to safety. He lay on the side of the road, stung by fire ants, and watched helplessly, shouting warnings to rescuers that oxygen tanks were on board. In what seemed like 30 seconds, he said, the bus exploded. As Mr. Wilson was taken away in an ambulance, he worried about Mrs. Lenzner, whom he had not seen.

Richard Lenzner had followed the Brighton Gardens' group for six hours, sharing the driving with his son, but pulled off the road to stretch his legs and walk his dog, Ms. Tell said. When he got back on Interstate 45, he figured the bus was way ahead of him. When he arrived at the Sunrise center in Dallas at 3 a.m., Mr. Lenzner was surprised the evacuees were not already there.

Jeffrey Wilson arrived at the Dallas hospital shortly after the bus passengers, alerted that his father was there. He already knew Mrs. Lenzner had not made it. But he did not tell his father, waiting until his sister, Ms. Kisluk, arrived.

She was the one accustomed to being in charge, he said, since his parents had moved from New York City to Houston to be near her. "She's protective of him," Jeffrey Wilson said. "She had wanted my mom to ride with him, but my mom saw no value in that. And thank God she wasn't on that bus, too."

The Lenzners, for their part, had been prepared for Mrs. Lenzner's death. She had transferred to hospice care a week before the explosion. But Ms. Tell believed her mother would live long enough to see her new granddaughter.

"She wanted so badly to have a chance to hold the baby," Ms. Tell said. "And I just really feel we were robbed of that."

 

Help Moving Forward

Unlike the elderly survivors, who are by their own accounts settling in without distress, the six staff members who had volunteered to ride the bus with the residents cannot speak of what happened without weeping.

Ayu Tayework, a registered nurse, keeps asking herself: "What if I did this? What if I did that?"

Bonnie Estes, an administrator, finds consolation only in the hope that this "makes us stronger and softer."

Dr. Joseph Morgan, whose mother, Alta, a resident, is three weeks shy of her 100th birthday, has no doubt that staff members did all they could. Their attentiveness began even before the buses pulled away, when the head nurse at Brighton Gardens gave him her cellphone number so he could track the progress of the evacuation.

"As a physician and as a son, I can tell you that moving them inland was wise," he said.

Dr. Morgan, an oral surgeon, woke early on Friday, Sept. 23, to brew a pot of coffee and track the storm on television. He had not been among the city's 2.5 million evacuees because doctors were asked to remain behind. First up on CNN were reports that a bus carrying elderly people had exploded. The next report said it was en route to Dallas from a nursing home in Bellaire.

"That's when it got to be kind of personal," Dr. Morgan said.

He immediately called the nurse's cellphone. "Indeed, it was our bus," she told him.

Then he waited. An hour and a half later, Dr. Morgan got a call from the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. His mother's hair had been singed, and she had inhaled some smoke, but otherwise she was fine.

As Dr. Morgan spoke, his mother, now back in Bellaire, was at her regular seat at dinner, enjoying the entree, chicken cacciatore, that two others in the dining room were complaining about. The resumption of talk about food was a signal that life was returning to normal.

A few residents were busy with a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. Some snored on the sofa. Everyone seemed delighted to see Mimi and Zoe, the dog and cat that live at Brighton Gardens, and to hear the twitter of birds in cages in every corner of the room.

Carolyn Wilder and Toby Lyles contributed research from New York for this article.

    Luck and Fate Placed Victims on Storm Bus, NYT, 3.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/national/nationalspecial/03bus.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Forms a Panel on Renewal

 

October 1, 2005
The New York Times
By GARY RIVLIN

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 30 - After weeks of sorrow, setbacks and recriminations, New Orleans took an important symbolic step forward Friday when Mayor C. Ray Nagin introduced a 17-member commission that will advise him as this stricken city begins the long slog of renewal and reconstruction.

The commission is likely to play a central role as the city wrestles with a long list of towering questions like the best way to spend federal relief dollars, restart a crippled economy and rebuild sodden neighborhoods. As conceived, the commission, which is especially thick with chief executives and others from the business world, will act as a mediating body for conflicting visions of reconstruction, and also send a message to the federal government.

"I think the importance of this group is that it will give the federal government the confidence that the city is harnessing the private sector to do a lot of its work," said J. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The commission's most immediate goal, the mayor said, is a working plan by year's end.

Mr. Nagin introduced the Bring New Orleans Back commission at a news conference held inside the heavily fortified Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, a building surrounded almost constantly by cleanup crews as well as beefy private security guards armed with weapons.

In the days leading up to Friday's announcement, there was intense jockeying over who would be among the lucky few to be granted a prime seat at the negotiating table. Mr. Perry was among those expressing disappointment that neither he nor any other representative of the tourism industry was being granted a place on the commission, though restaurants, hotels and the entertainment sector account for 81,000 jobs in a city of roughly 450,000, according to data provided by the visitors bureau.

That was heartening news, however, for those locals who had feared that efforts to rebuild New Orleans would emphasize tourism at the expense of its other industries, including shipbuilding, oil and gas, and medical research.

The commission's roster includes a broad array of community representatives and business leaders, among them Scott Cowen, president of Tulane University, and Joseph C. Canizaro and Donald T. Bollinger Jr., multimillionaire businessmen with close ties to the White House. Also on the list is David White, a businessman often described as the mayor's closest confidant; Alfred C. Hughes, Roman Catholic archbishop of New Orleans; and the homegrown trumpet player Wynton Marsalis.

The commission, with one Latino member, is otherwise half black and half white - deliberately so, according to several people involved in the selection process. But like most every other facet of the Hurricane Katrina story in this predominantly black city, race persists as a nettlesome issue.

"I think some people don't understand that an equal number of black and white isn't the same as equity," said Barbara Major, a black activist who will serve as co-chairwoman of the commission. "But I tell you what, I give them credit, at least it's 50-50."

Ms. Major, one of two women on the commission, is the executive director of St. Thomas Health Services, a medical clinic in New Orleans that until the hurricane served city residents regardless of an ability to pay. Her goal, she said, is a city that is more equitable and offers greater opportunity than in the past.

"With what everyone's been through, I'm not going to be assuming anything about anyone until we start working together," she said.

The group's other co-chairman, Maurice L. Lagarde, a New Orleans native who runs the Mississippi Delta region for the hospital giant HCA, described their task as "daunting."

Friday's announcement opens a new chapter in the city's odyssey, officially beginning the rebuilding process and providing the go-ahead for the city's elite to start the debate over its direction.

Speaking last week, Mr. Cowen, of Tulane, said he was ignoring the varied proposals being bandied about, in anticipation of a more formal forum like this commission, where various leaders could debate the big questions that will preoccupy New Orleans in the months to come.

One issue certain to land in the commission's lap is the size of the new city. Some, including Pres Kabacoff, a prominent developer here known for using mixed-income housing to reclaim historic neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times, are convinced that New Orleans must be transformed into a smaller, more dense city thick with 10- and 15-story apartment buildings built around historic areas.

Other ideas certain to prompt debate are proposals to expand the presence of casinos in the city as a quick fix for the local economy, and another to allow some parts of the city that are below sea level to revert to swampland. Many of those low-lying neighborhoods were home to the city's poorest people, adding racial and economic complexity to an environmental issue.

"There'll be plenty of time for pushing and shoving as we debate all these issues over the coming months," said Lt. Gov. Mitchell J. Landrieu, a lifelong New Orleans resident who is the son of former Mayor Moon Landrieu and brother of Senator Mary L. Landrieu.

The commission held an introductory four-hour meeting on Friday.

"I really didn't know how the commission would react when they got a full briefing on everything we know," Mayor Nagin said. "After their jaws picked up from dropping, and after they wiped their brow from sweating, they basically all collectively said, 'We can do this.' "

    New Orleans Forms a Panel on Renewal, NYT, 1.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/01/national/nationalspecial/01panel.html

 

 

 

 

 

Smaller Towns

Bore the Brunt of Rita's Force

 

October 1, 2005
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

 

CAMERON, La., Sept. 30 - There used to be a hardware store here, as evidenced by the paint scrapers, copper pots and pans, random power cords and plungers that are buried in the muck and branches.

There were homes, too, where bedsheets are now strung through the trees like Christmas ribbon. There is a disembodied roof, a shrimp boat smashed to bits against a live oak tree, a file cabinet wedged in black mud, its tiny, color-coded tabs intact amid the rubble.

They are all that is left of Cameron and nearby Creole. These towns, which opened Friday to residents for the first time, are part of a cluster of settlements in rural Louisiana and Texas that were essentially wiped out by Hurricane Rita, the power of which is only now beginning to reveal itself a week after it struck.

Because the storm spared Houston, Galveston and other Texas cities that had expected to be pummeled by its wind and force, Hurricane Rita was broadly perceived as the Chihuahua to Hurricane Katrina's bulldog and something dodged rather than survived. But looking at small towns like this one, it is clear that from Shreveport in the north to Pecan Island in the south, from Houston in the east to New Orleans in the west, Hurricane Rita was as strong as its predecessor, or stronger.

It ended about 100 lives - many while people were trying to evacuate - made pickup sticks of homes and businesses, upended more oil rigs than Hurricane Katrina and took away electric power for hundreds of miles.

"The American people have seen so much damage they are saturated," said Charles Gibson, a national guardsman from South Carolina who was one of the first outsiders to arrive here.

"There may not have been much incentive for people to get down to these little towns," Mr. Gibson said. "But for the people down here who are totally devastated, they feel left out and ignored, as if their story hasn't been told."

Hurricane Rita brought indelible pain to the lives of people like the Pughs, whose 50 family members lost every home among them but one. On Friday, the first day she was allowed to come back to town, Wardella Pugh and several members of her family picked through what was left of their store, D's Hardware and Tackle, trying to recognize a piece of roof and salvage things like the little flower pot that strangely survived the winds that flattened the rest of Cameron.

Cars snaked down Highway 27, with neighbors, staring in disbelief, calling to each other from the windows. "I'm sorry, Wardella!" yelled a neighbor from the bed of her pickup truck. Mrs. Pugh just stared back.

"You're born and raised somewhere and you want to come back," she said. "But when all you see is a pile of rubble, I don't know anymore."

Having struck weeks earlier, Hurricane Katrina appears to have given this region one gift with many dividends: fear. Seeing what that storm wrought in New Orleans and beyond, hundreds of residents fled places like Jasper, Tex., where Hurricane Rita took a fast, unexpected turn, according to local officials and evacuees who later returned.

"If Katrina hadn't happened, I think everybody would have stayed," said Shannon Van Gossen, who was buying a generator on Friday at the Lowe's in Lake Charles, La. His family fled to McComb, Miss., and still spent days without power.

After the embarrassing communications and response failures associated with Hurricane Katrina, the local and federal government agencies appeared to have been quick and aggressive in sending aid this way, officials and residents concurred.

"I think FEMA is stretched, but the response is good at this point," said Todd Hunter, the police chief of Jasper, where 95 percent of the electric grid was destroyed. "This storm did something very unpredictable by turning. It was an unprecedented deal here."

Jasper County has proved a difficult area for relief workers and government officials to navigate. It is long and narrow and mostly rural, and Red Cross workers describe arriving in small unincorporated areas where people have been trapped in their homes behind a maze of trees.

"This is some of the most touching stuff I've seen in a long time," said Brian Woodward, the site supervisor for the American Red Cross in Jasper, his eyes welling. "When a man 80 years old who hasn't eaten in four days, and you hand them a plate with corn and meat and bread and butter and that man hugs you, that's something."

The two storms have created a diaspora, with evacuees from Hurricane Katrina finding themselves on the move again, this time with the people whose towns they had hunkered down in. "We had tons of Katrina people here, and they all had to leave," Mr. Van Gossen said.

In recent days, scores of families have begun to tarp their roofs, saw at the rubble in their yards, call the insurance companies and pray for a cold front. Some were wavering between rage and disbelief. "Can I interest you in an old, used shrimp boat?" said Leonard Aulds, who emerged from behind what was left of his 40-foot boat, now wrapped around a tree, his orange shock of hair blowing in the slight wind.

The boat, next to his camper that is no more, was docked on the river a half-mile away from its current resting place in Creole. It rode a giant wave across Highway 27 and into a tree, exploding in a mass of wood and metal, its motor exposed, the bark of the live oak it hit totally stripped.

"They kept telling us on the weather station it was going to Houston, going to Houston, and we might get 15-mile-an-hour winds," Mr. Aulds said. "We might get some water."

That was the end of his shrimping business, and his town too. "All everyone out there is worried about is Houston and New Orleans," he said, pulling on a cigarette. "We're sick of it. This storm hit Cameron Parish 10 times what it hit New Orleans, and nobody even knows it."

    Smaller Towns Bore the Brunt of Rita's Force, NYT, 1.10.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/01/national/nationalspecial/01flood.html

 

 

 

 

Bush poll numbers improve

in Rita aftermath

 

Thu Sep 29, 2005
9:04 PM ET
Reuters

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's job approval has risen after slumping to new lows on criticism of his handling of deadly Hurricane Katrina, two polls showed on Thursday.

Bush's approval rating climbed to 45 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken September 26-28, up from 40 percent in a similar poll taken a week ago.

A Fox News poll also showed Bush with a 45 percent approval rating. That survey, taken on September 27-28, showed a rise in Bush's standing compared to a mid-month poll that gave him a 41 percent approval rating.

A high-profile response by Bush to Hurricane Rita, the latest storm to hit the Gulf Coast region, appeared to give him a lift.

Seventy-one percent of those polled by CNN/USA Today/Gallup gave Bush high marks for his handling of Rita, which hit Texas and Louisiana last Saturday.

Rita, however, caused little loss of life compared to Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced 1 million.

Only 40 percent approved of the president's handling of Katrina, which devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on August 29.

Bush traveled to command centers in Colorado, Texas and Louisiana last weekend to monitor Rita's winds and heavy rains and held a series of meeting with military brass and disaster coordinators.

Although he cut short his monthlong Texas vacation to return to Washington after Katrina, Bush did not arrive back at the White House until two days after the storm made its landfall on the Gulf Coast.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency received scathing criticism for its role in coordinating the initial Katrina response.

Bush has since replaced the agency's director, Michael Brown, whom he initially praised, and has said he takes responsibility for any problems in the federal response.

    Bush poll numbers improve in Rita aftermath, R, 29.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-30T010409Z_01_DIT986059_RTRUKOC_0_US-BUSH-POLLS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans seeks repopulation

 

Thu Sep 29, 2005 11:10 PM ET
Reuters
By Ellen Wulfhorst

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans relaunched a "repopulation" campaign on Thursday to get the city back on its feet after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and then received a second blow from Rita.

Business owners and employees were allowed to return to the driest parts of the city, many for the first time since Katrina hit on August 29.

Cleanup crews removed broken tree limbs from streets and workers cleaned out shops with heavy-duty power washers to clear away muck that once swamped 80 percent of the city -- famed for its cuisine, jazz and Mardi Gras. Some businesses showed signs of coming back to life.

"If they don't get these businesses going again, the city ain't going to have any money," said Art Depodesta, part owner of Cooter Brown's restaurant and bar.

"The time for all the 'woe, woe, woe is me' business is over. It's time to get going," he said.

Signs were posted everywhere offering cleanup services, construction crews, electrical repairs and demolition. The smell of rotten food filled the air as restaurants opened their ruined refrigerators.

Katrina roared through Louisiana and Mississippi last month, leaving the Gulf Coast region in shambles and killing more than 1,100 people.

Jerry Amato, a partner at Mother's, a landmark restaurant in the central business district, had crews disinfecting the rooms floor to ceiling.

"It'll be two to three weeks before we're ready to say 'Come on in,'" he said.

He said most of his 110 or so employees lived in the hard-hit Ninth Ward and lost their houses to flooding.

"We're really learning what it means to miss New Orleans right now," he said. "I just had to get back. It was time to come home."

New Orleans' first efforts to bring people home to the largely deserted city were postponed to await Hurricane Rita, which struck the Texas-Louisiana border last Saturday. It wiped out coastal communities and caused a storm surge in New Orleans that caused new flooding. Before Katrina, New Orleans' population was about 450,000 people.

Rita touched off a chaotic evacuation in Texas that caused traffic jams 100 miles long and forced people to sit idling in their cars for hours in stifling heat.

The Houston Chronicle reported at least 107 people in Texas died because of the hurricane, most of them due to accidents or health problems during the evacuation.

 

POLICE UNDER INVESTIGATION

New Orleans' acting police chief said on Thursday a dozen city police officers were under investigation amid accusations the police participated in the wave of violence that followed Katrina.

Also under investigation were 249 officers who failed to show up for work during the storm, acting Police Chief Warren Riley said. He noted that some officers who did not come to work had been stranded.

New Orleans' police department has come under heavy criticism over its apparent inability to control the chaos after Katrina. In the storm's aftermath, thousands of desperate people waited days to be rescued and crowds of looters broke into stores to steal armloads of goods.

There have been television reports that police joined the looters in ransacking a hotel and shops.

"If the investigation determines the members violated departmental policy or any laws, swift and decisive action will be taken," Riley said. "If someone took jewelry or a television, something like that, then we have a serious problem."

The investigation at the police department follows the abrupt retirement of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass on Tuesday.

 

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

The economic impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was felt across the country.

As of Thursday, nearly all crude production and 79 percent of natural gas output remained paralyzed in the Gulf of Mexico, home to more than a quarter of U.S. domestic production, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

A number of offshore rigs and platforms have also been reported missing, destroyed, adrift or damaged.

A dozen refineries remained shut, amounting to more than 3 million barrels a day of fuel processing capacity, increasing the danger of shortages heading into the Northern Hemisphere winter.

According to U.S. Labor Department figures released on Thursday, 60,000 Americans lost their jobs last week due to the hurricanes, lifting the total number of workers who sought benefits because of the storms to 279,000.

Even the U.S. apparel industry has been hit, said Moody's Investors Service, which reported the storms seriously disrupted normal shopping patterns and hurt sales at the start of the school year throughout much of the Southeast.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin continues to push for a speedy return even as the state's top health official said the lack of clean water and a functioning sewage system in the eastern bank of the city posed a health risk.

Federal administrators overseeing the recovery efforts agreed with Nagin's plans to repopulate some areas, while restricting access to low-lying neighborhoods that still face flooding dangers in bad weather.

"We're in the process of supporting the mayor's plan for re-entry," said Vice Adm. Thad Allen, in charge of the federal recovery effort in New Orleans.

(Additional reporting by Hilary Burke in Baton Rouge, Jeff Franks in Houston, Matt Daily in New Orleans)

    New Orleans seeks repopulation, R, 29.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-30T031004Z_01_FOR766548_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans residents

await new plan for going home

 

Wed Sep 28, 2005 2:10 PM ET
Reuters
By Ellen Wulfhorst and Kenneth Li

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The New Orleans mayor planned to give anxious residents a new timetable on Wednesday for returning to the city, while the Louisiana governor began lobbying Washington for support to rebuild the storm-battered state.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco declined a chance to respond in Congress to comments by the former head of the federal disaster agency blaming her for problems in the response to the storms, and said she would rather focus on her economic case.

"Today I came really to talk about job creation," she told the Senate Finance Committee.

She has said the state needed nearly $32 billion in federal aid to help rebuild the state's infrastructure.

"This country and its economy must have a vibrant commercial center at the mouth of the Mississippi River, its most important waterway," Blanco said. "Katrina and Rita brought our economy to its knees."

Blanco said an array of incentives, from a fund to spur business development to tax credits and hurricane recovery bonds, are necessary to help Louisiana. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had left 71,000 firms, or almost 41 percent of the state's businesses shuttered or displaced.

She vowed to rebuild the state with more secure levees, which breached during both hurricanes, and stricter building codes.

The governor's appearance followed dramatic testimony on Tuesday by former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown, who called Louisiana "dysfunctional" after Hurricane Katrina struck and said he was stymied by differences between Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Also on Wednesday, Congressional Republican leaders promised to look for ways to cut spending to help pay for the huge costs of post-hurricane rebuilding. Congress has approved $62.3 billion in aid after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August. Early estimates of the total eventual federal bill run as high as $200 billion.

 

FRESH TIMETABLE

Nagin planned to release a fresh timetable for allowing people back into the city. Plans to repopulate New Orleans were postponed last week as the city braced itself for Rita, which was the second powerful storm to slam the state in less than a month and set off new flooding in the city.

Nagin's original plans were criticized as premature and overly ambitious by federal officials. U.S. President George W. Bush also urged Nagin to be cautious.

Now, residents say plans to return are moving too slowly.

They have been unable to return to the city's mostly heavily damaged areas, in particular the devastated low-income Ninth Ward. Only in the Algiers section, which did not flood, have residents been allowed to move back home, while in others, they have been allowed only to visit and assess the damage.

"It's been a month. Some people have to have closure. They have to decide life-altering decisions," said Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, New Orleans city councilwoman, whose district includes parts of the Ninth Ward.

The mayor defended his timetable at a city council meeting on Tuesday, the first since Katrina hit on August 29.

"It's very important for people to come back to the city and take a look ... and understand," Nagin said. "There are some people saying you shouldn't bring people back ... to not bring people back to the jazz and the gumbo.

"We're going to move forward aggressively," he said. "Whoever doesn't like it, too bad."

Nagin said he would be briefed on the flooding and basic services such as electricity, sewer and water before deciding which sections to open.

One resident of the Ninth Ward addressed the city council meeting in tears.

"We clearly feel like we are the have-nots," the sobbing woman said. "We need to see it."

Katrina and Rita, which hit on Saturday, devastated the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama. Katrina killed at least 1,122 people and ruined New Orleans. The storms forced more than 2 million people to evacuate and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

(Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi in New Orleans, Michael Christie in Baton Rouge and Jeff Franks, Matt Daily and Mark Babineck in Houston)

((Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; editing by Randall Mikkelsen; Houston Newsroom +1 713 210 8522)

    New Orleans residents await new plan for going home, R, 28.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-28T180928Z_01_FOR766548_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Senators:

Hurricane Aid Is Being Blocked

 

September 28, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:04 p.m. ET

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With Gulf Coast governors pressing for action, Senate Finance Committee members complained Wednesday that the Bush administration is blocking a bipartisan $9 billion health care package for hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

''We've got people with needs today,'' Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. She was joined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who testified via a teleconference hookup, in urging quick action on the legislation.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the committee, said four or five senators have been blocking action on the bill after the Bush administration raised objections to provisions that would extend Medicaid coverage to thousands upon thousands of adults who otherwise would be uninsured, including those whose applications have been rejected in Louisiana.

''We can work with everybody, including the administration, or against them, and I'm prepared to go either way,'' said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. ''But I'm going to look after our people first.''

Administration officials contend the Medicaid extensions are not needed because a newly created fund could be tapped whenever health care providers care for uninsured victims of Katrina between Aug. 24th and Jan. 31, 2006.

But the administration has not revealed how much money will be in the fund, and senators questioned both the funding commitment and whether the administration has the authority to establish such a fund.

Earlier Wednesday, Blanco asked the committee for help in rebuilding her devastated state, saying Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ''knocked us down but they did not knock us out.''

In her opening statement, Blanco did not mention former FEMA director Michael Brown, who on Tuesday had blamed state and local officials in Louisiana for not responding appropriately to the storm. She declined later to respond to Brown's accusations when given a specific opportunity by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

''We are looking forward, not backward, '' she said.

Blanco said 40 percent of Louisiana's businesses were lost or damaged in the storm and said the state's most pressing need is jobs.

''That's what we need,'' she said. ''That's exactly what we need in the face of this suffering and hardship -- jobs.''

Across the Capitol, a House panel was hearing pledges from government auditors that they will closely examine millions of dollars in contracts the Bush administration awarded to politically connected companies for Hurricane Katrina relief.

The inspectors general from half a dozen agencies, as well as officials from the Government Accountability Office, on Wednesday were addressing a House subcommittee on the Katrina cleanup and announcing several new audits to combat waste and fraud.

They are pledging strong oversight that includes a review of no-bid contracts and close scrutiny of federal employees who now enjoy a $250,000 -- rather than a $2,500 -- purchase limit for Katrina-related expenses on their government-issued credit cards.

''When so much money is available, it draws people of less than perfect character,'' H. Walker Feaster, inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission, said. ''It underscores the need for internal controls of the money going out.''

The joint appearance of government auditors comes amid a flurry of legislation pending in Congress that would create additional layers of oversight to the Katrina contracting and award process.

It also comes amid growing charges of favoritism that critics say led to government missteps in the wake of the Katrina disaster.

In a House hearing Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats assailed Brown, who critics say lacked proper experience for the job, for his performance in handling emergency aid. Brown admitted making some mistakes but placed the brunt of the blame on the Louisiana governor, the New Orleans mayor and even the Bush White House that appointed him.

Blanco on Tuesday had vehemently denied that she waited until the eve of the storm to order an evacuation of New Orleans. She said her order came on the morning of Aug. 27 -- two days before the storm -- resulting in 1.3 million people evacuating the city.

''Such falsehoods and misleading statements, made under oath before Congress, are shocking,'' Blanco said in a statement Tuesday.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said Wednesday that while Brown made mistakes, so did others. ''He can't be the scapegoat. First responders are local and state, and the governor and mayor did a pathetic job of preparing their people for this horrific storm,'' Shays said on NBC's ''Today'' show.

Lawmakers were turning their attention to the lucrative Katrina contracts.

In the weeks after the Aug. 29 storm, more than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts awarded by FEMA for Katrina work were handed out with little or no competition or had open-ended or vague terms that previous audits have cited as being highly prone to abuse.

    Senators: Hurricane Aid Is Being Blocked, NYT, 28.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Katrina-Congress-HK4.html

 

 

 

 

 

Mississippi May Move Its Casinos Ashore

 

September 28, 2005
The New York Times
By RICK LYMAN

 

JACKSON, Miss., Sept. 27 - Just a month after Hurricane Katrina smashed Mississippi's casino gambling boats, the state Legislature opened a special session Tuesday devoted to how and whether to salvage an industry that has been central to the economy of the Gulf Coast.

Saying that placing such structures on the water is no longer safe, Gov. Haley Barbour instantly generated controversy by proposing that casinos, previously restricted to boats moored along the state's southern coast or the Mississippi River, be allowed to move as much as 1,500 feet inland. The casinos had been built on barges because, under Mississippi law, they had to float to keep them physically separate from nearby communities.

Mr. Barbour called the moment an opportunity to rebuild the coast into a world-class destination resort made up of sprawling, state-of-the-art entertainment complexes rather than simply rebuilding what was there. "In 30 years, when I'm dead and gone, people will look at the south coast and look at what it has become," Mr. Barbour said. "If it has become just another version of what it had been, we will have failed."

But many of the state's religious leaders, who have opposed casino gambling from the beginning, were trying to seize the moment to shut down the casinos. "It is unfortunate that with all the human needs in Mississippi right now, the gambling-political complex has chosen this unfortunate time to try to expand its influence," said William Perkins, spokesman for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Other proposals made by the governor on Tuesday included a $25 million package of bridge loans for small businesses; a short-term line of credit of up to $500 million to keep state and local governments running until federal relief money arrives; and various bills intended to waive deadlines and limit penalties for those whose lives were uprooted by the storm.

But the emergence of gambling as the central issue of the session highlighted how crucial the tax money generated by casinos has become to the economy of Mississippi and other states that have gradually allowed the expansion of the industry over the last two decades.

In Mississippi, which has among the nation's lowest tax rates for casinos, 12 percent of gambling revenues go to the government - 8 percent to the state and 4 percent to the county where the casino is. The casinos were projected to bring in $189 million to state tax coffers in the coming fiscal year, a number that has been steadily and rapidly rising since casinos first became legal here in 1990.

The governor teared up twice in his speech, once when praising his wife's efforts to help hurricane victims and again at the end, describing how he would not allow Mississippi to miss this opportunity. "Let's lead a renaissance for Mississippi," he said.

Many of the state's religious leaders were unmoved.

"When he was running for governor in 2003, he sat in my office twice and told me he would not expand the gambling industry," said Donald E. Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, a conservative social policy organization based in Tupelo. "His constituency was the money people and the moral people, but he's chosen to split his constituency and side with the money people. Well, they may have the money, but we have the people, we have the votes, and he's going to pay."

Mr. Barbour, a Republican who was once the national party chairman, said his position was entirely consistent with what he said during his campaign, since all he had promised was to stop the spread of gambling to new Mississippi counties.

But Mr. Perkins said: "Well, it all depends on what you mean by expand. We certainly understood him to mean that the way the casinos were was the way they would remain. What he's talking about here sure sounds like expansion to us."

When casinos were first legalized in Mississippi, gambling was limited to a few boats that would pick up customers and ferry them offshore to gamble. Then, legislators decided to allow the casinos to operate even if they were permanently moored to the shore, as long as they remained on the water.

And last year, the legislature voted to allow the casinos to sink pilings into the sea floor, to more safely secure the structures. But before such construction could be undertaken, Katrina came along and destroyed most of the coast's gambling boats.

Under Mr. Barbour's proposal, operators could build casinos as much as 1,500 feet inland, as long as they also had some sort of structure right on the beach like a hotel that linked the casino to the water.

Religious leaders, however, said the proposal could eventually lead to casinos overrunning the state until there were slot machines in almost every gas station and saloon, as there are in neighboring Louisiana.

"We keep taking little baby steps toward what we fear is a total takeover of the state by the gambling-political complex," Mr. Perkins said.

Hearings on the new legislation opened this afternoon, and Representative Bobby Moak, the House Gaming Committee chairman, said he expected the bill might go to the House floor as early as Wednesday. It is then that antigambling advocates intend to try to add amendments aimed at maintaining the status quo, or perhaps even rolling back gambling in the state.

"You have as many proposals out there as you have groups," Mr. Moak said. "The governor says 1,500 feet. Industry folks want it to be more. Religious leaders don't want the casinos to move at all. Frankly, it's a big row over what has come down to a few feet."

But some religious leaders say they see an opportunity to change the law in a way that might, potentially, end all gambling in the state. One amendment almost certain to be proposed would allow a statewide referendum to end gambling. "That would be dangerous," said Representative Ferr Smith, a Democrat who supports the governor's proposal. "They could vote the whole thing out."

If religious groups were trying to rein in gambling, political and business leaders from the stricken coastal region were pleading for passage of new casino legislation.

In a front-page editorial on Tuesday, The Sun Herald in Biloxi said, "If decisive action is not taken by the Legislature this week, then the ruin on the coast will reverberate all the way to the Tennessee state line."

Some form of casino gambling is all but certain to return to the Mississippi coast. Representative Moak said he still hoped to work out a compromise with the church groups.

But Mr. Perkins said: "I don't think so. We will not compromise on this issue. We will never compromise on a moral issue and, to us, that's what gambling is."

    Mississippi May Move Its Casinos Ashore, NYT, 28.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/28/business/28gamble.html

 

 

 

 

 

Gulf coast cleans up

 

Tue Sep 27, 2005 8:19 PM ET
The New York Times
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

 

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (Reuters) - Authorities urged anxious residents on Tuesday to stay away from some areas battered by Hurricane Rita, as the former top U.S. disaster official blamed local officials for problems after Hurricane Katrina struck.

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing (in time) that Louisiana was dysfunctional," former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, who was pulled from the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort and resigned after chaos and destruction in New Orleans.

As flood waters receded in the historic city and workers cleaned debris and cleared roadways in the wake of the two powerful storms, U.S. President George W. Bush took his seventh trip to the battered Gulf coast since coming under heavy criticism for the slow federal Katrina response.

"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade (Louisiana) Governor (Kathleen) Blanco and (New Orleans) Mayor (Ray) Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together," Brown told a House of Representatives panel in Washington.

Rep. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, rejected Brown's assertion as "absolutely stunning."

In New Orleans, Nagin said, "I think it's unfortunate. I think for a FEMA director in Washington trying to deflect attention off his performance is unbelievable."

But Nagin expressed compassion. "Mr. Brown is under a lot of pressure, I feel sorry for him," he added.

Katrina, which struck August 29, and Rita, which hit on Saturday, devastated the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama. Katrina killed at least 1,122 people and ruined New Orleans. The storms forced more than 2 million people to evacuate and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

 

STAY AWAY

In small cities in the heartland of the U.S. oil industry, where Rita brought down power lines, uprooted trees and peeled back roofs, officials urged people to stay away until electricity, water and sewage services were restored.

"If you take the system we are trying to reconstruct and patch together, literally band-aid back together, and you stretch it too soon, then it will break again," said Mayor Randy Roach of the Louisiana city of Lake Charles.

Many appeared to heed the advice.

"It's really silly to think that you can come back and stay right now," said Scott Saltzman after coming back into Lake Charles to check on his motorcycle repair store, Hog Heaven, and bring supplies to relatives who had remained behind.

A search for stranded cattle continued in the devastated swamplands of the Louisiana bayou, where Rita whipped up a 15-foot (4.6-meter) wall of sea water that splintered thousands of homes as it surged up to 35 miles inland.

Although officials said the massive evacuation helped minimize the death toll from Rita, the Houston Chronicle said 10 people died in Texas, five after breathing carbon monoxide from a generator. One died in a tornado in Mississippi.

"If you compare it to Katrina the term I would use is the damage is minor," said Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, head of the military's Rita relief efforts. "But if it's your house and your home town, it's significant."

Bush visited Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles. "This area is hurting," he said. "I saw firsthand how it's hurting."

About a quarter of U.S. refining capacity and crude output remained paralyzed, rekindling worries that the world's biggest energy consumer could face shortages.

Wholesale gasoline prices on the Gulf Coast rose 30 cents per gallon on Tuesday as dealers scrambled for supplies.

NASA reopened its Johnson Space Center in Houston after finding Rita had not damaged the headquarters of its manned space flight program, and took back control of the International Space Station Russia.

 

NEW ORLEANS POLICE CHIEF

In New Orleans, Police Chief Eddie Compass said he would retire from the heavily criticized force.

"Every man in a leadership position knows when it's time to hand over reins to someone else. I'll be retiring as superintendent of police and will be going on in another direction God has for me," he told reporters.

Hundreds of the city's police officers deserted or disappeared in the aftermath of Katrina, while thousands of desperate people waited days to be rescued and crowds of looters broke into stores and walked out with piles of goods.

The economic impact of the hurricanes showed signs of widening. U.S. consumer confidence plunged to almost a two-year low in September. The Conference Board's index of sentiment fell to 86.6 from 105.5 in August.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in New York, Jeff Franks, Matt Daily and Mark Babineck in Houston, Ellen Wulfhorst and Kenneth Li in New Orleans, Donna Smith in Washington, Steve Holland in Lake Charles, and the New York energy desk)

    Gulf coast cleans up, R, 27.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-28T001854Z_01_FOR766548_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Bush views hurricane damage

on 7th trip to region

 

Tue Sep 27, 2005 8:32 PM ET
Reuters
By Steve Holland

 

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush flew over hurricane-damaged homes and oil installations on Tuesday on his seventh trip to survey recovery efforts as he asked Americans to reduce energy consumption.

"This area is hurting," Bush said. "I saw firsthand how it's hurting."

After directing White House staff to curb nonessential travel, Bush was briefed by local officials about the damage from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, first in Texas and then in Louisiana, where he took an aerial tour that included flying over an offshore oil rig.

With a heavily damaged airport hanger as a backdrop in Lake Charles, Bush urged people displaced by Rita to heed the advice of state and local officials and not return to their homes until water and power have been restored.

"I understand there's a lot of frustrations with the people who left this part of the country, people who are scattered around and want to come back and see their homes," Bush said. "But it's very important for them to understand that now is not the time to come back."

Bush later amended his disaster declaration for Texas, committing the federal government to paying for debris removal and other assistance through October 27.

The trip to Texas and Louisiana was the seventh since Bush began visiting the region five days after Hurricane Katrina struck August 29, killing more than 1,000 people. The devastation caught the federal government off guard, putting Bush on the defensive over the slow and chaotic response.

 

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Katrina and Rita also helped push gasoline prices to record highs, hitting Americans in their wallets and raising concerns about the storms' impact on the economy.

While asking Americans and federal agencies to conserve energy, the White House said Bush was unlikely to curtail his travels to the hurricane region.

"The president believes that it's important to get a firsthand account of the operations that are ongoing to provide relief to the people in need," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

To help conserve energy, the White House said orders were issued to staff to restrict nonessential travel and to reduce use of electricity by shutting off printers, fax machines and lights. The White House staff was also instructed to turn up office thermostats.

The White House said it was reducing the size of the presidential motorcade, which numbered about a dozen vehicles during Bush's stop in Beaumont, Texas. The motorcade can run more than 20 vehicles for some trips.

 

COST SHARPLY UP TO RUN AIR FORCE ONE

One of the heftiest costs of presidential travel entails flying Air Force One, a reconfigured Boeing 747-200B. Bush already has made stops in Mississippi, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana, including four in New Orleans, the low-lying city flooded by Katrina.

While precise costs were not available, Maj. Brenda Campbell, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said that as of a month ago, before Katrina struck, fuel expenses for the biggest airplane of the Air Force One fleet was $6,029 per hour, compared to $3,974 an hour in fiscal year 2004.

Bush, whose administration was sharply criticized for a the slow federal response to Katrina, has responded more swiftly to Hurricane Rita.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said, "I do want to tell you that some things worked right this time. We learned a lot of lessons from our previous experience with Katrina."

During his visit to the region, Bush's Marine One helicopter carried him over the swampy bayou country in the southwestern part of Louisiana that took the brunt of Rita. He flew twice over a heavily damaged oil refinery and banked low and circled an offshore oil rig that appeared to be in relatively good shape.

McClellan said the White House hoped to have an estimate for the cost of Katrina recovery efforts soon. He did not embrace either the $100 billion figure that came out of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office, nor the estimate from the Louisiana congressional delegation of $250 billion.

    Bush views hurricane damage on 7th trip to region, R, 27.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-28T003202Z_01_SPI768906_RTRUKOC_0_US-HURRICANES-BUSH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Bush to Tour Hurricane-Damaged Region

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:12 p.m. ET

 

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) -- President Bush flew to his home state Tuesday to get a firsthand look at Hurricane Rita's damage to U.S. energy resources in the birthplace of the modern oil industry.

Bush immediately went into a briefing by state officials in this port city where the Spindletop well erupted a century ago and created the Gulf of Mexico's oil boom. The city is now home to refineries that turn oil into gasoline, many of which were knocked out of power by the storm.

''We're not sure yet the full extent of the damage,'' the president, a former oilman, said Monday after a closed-door meeting with his secretaries of energy and the interior.

After his meeting in Beaumont, Bush was to get an aerial tour of the Texas-Louisiana border area where Rita blew ashore, then meet with Louisiana officials in Lake Charles, La.

Bush said the government stands ready to release fuel from its emergency oil stockpile to alleviate high prices. And he suggested he would name a federal official to oversee the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast -- after local officials first produce a vision for their rebuilt communities.

He also asked Americans and federal workers to cut back on unnecessary travel to make up for fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Rita.

''If it makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel, it darn sure makes sense for federal employees,'' Bush said. ''We can encourage employees to car pool or use mass transit, and we can shift peak electricity use to off-peak hours. There's ways for the federal government to lead when it comes to conservation.''

The White House also will be looking at ways to conserve, press secretary Scott McClellan said, although that didn't include curtailing the president's travel plans. Tuesday marked the president's seventh trip to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes in less than a month.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush headed here Tuesday, McClellan said the president has directed the White House staff to conserve energy by turning up thermostats, shutting down computers, faxes and copy machines after hours, using public transportation or carpools and reducing nonessential travel by relying more heavily on video conferencing.

Bush also has asked that his motorcade be scaled back, his spokesman said, and it was shorter upon his arrival in Texas. However, the multiple-vehicle caravan moved only a few yards from his presidential jet and dropped Bush off at an airport terminal for his meeting with Texas officials.

Bush returned Sunday from a three-day trip in which he stopped in four cities that have been a base for government response to the storm. As he has in most of his previous trips to the areas hit by the hurricanes, Bush spent most of the time in meetings with state and local officials -- many of them reporting by videoconference.

On Saturday, in a visit to the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., some of Bush's briefers were linked from the White House situation room steps from the Oval Office.

Still, McClellan said it is important that the president get a firsthand look at emergency operations and lift the spirits of workers there.

''I know the president's visit yesterday to the joint field office in Baton Rouge was very much appreciated,'' McClellan said. ''You saw the enthusiasm from all those who have been working 24/7 to help the people of the region rebuild their lives and recover.''

The president's entourage is designed for speed and the ultimate in security, not for fuel economy, so every movement he makes outside the White House consumes an enormous amount of fuel. The arrangements are dictated by the Secret Service, whose mission is to protect him.

McClellan wouldn't say whether the president was considering shortening his motorcade, which typically has well over a dozen vehicles, including several gas-guzzling vans, SUVs, Bush's limousine and an identical limo put in as a decoy.

The fuel consumption is even higher on Bush's cross-country travels, which include flights on Air Force One as well as movements by a group of helicopters for the president, his staff, Secret Service agents and press that accompany him wherever he goes. The Air Force recently estimated fuel costs for Air Force One have risen to $6,029 per hour, up from $3,974 an hour in the last budget year.

Sixteen Texas oil refineries remained shut down after the storm, and crews found significant damage to at least one in the Port Arthur area, said Energy Department spokesman Craig Stevens.

The U.S. holds nearly 700 million barrels of oil for emergencies in four underground salt caverns along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Big Hill site near the Texas-Louisiana border sustained ''minor damage'' from Hurricane Rita and the status of another at West Hackberry in Louisiana is uncertain because access roads are flooded and preventing access, according to Energy Department officials. The two other sites sustained no damage.

On the Net:

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov

    Bush to Tour Hurricane-Damaged Region, NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Bush.html

 

 

 

 

 

With Storms Behind Them,

Gulf Residents Begin

Piecing Their Lives Together

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times
By PETER APPLEBOME
and RALPH BLUMENTHAL

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 26 - The lights came back on in the French Quarter on Monday, and residents streamed back across the Mississippi River to neighborhoods in Algiers. For the first time since Hurricane Rita compounded the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, glimmers of optimism began coursing through this battered and largely deserted city as Gulf Coast residents in Texas and Louisiana tried to put their lives back together.

The death toll from Hurricane Rita rose to eight on Monday. Five people were found dead in an apartment in Beaumont, Tex., apparently overcome by carbon monoxide from a generator they had been using indoors to power a ceiling fan, the authorities said. A 3-year-old boy in Point Blank, Tex., was killed when a tree fell on his family's mobile home.

Residents of southwestern Louisiana were trying to return to the hard-hit towns where the storm obliterated homes, businesses and farms.

Crude oil and gasoline futures rebounded on speculation that refineries near the Texas-Louisiana border might be offline longer than expected. Officials said refineries in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Tex., had suffered more damage than originally thought and could be closed for extended periods, Bloomberg News reported. None of the refinery operators said when production would resume.

But under a sunny sky on a day with sweltering heat, residents across the region tried to move on after the storms.

Houston, which had feared a knockout blow from Hurricane Rita but received just a wet slap, continued to recover, with power restored to about 555,000 of the 700,000 CenterPoint Energy customers who lost service on Saturday.

Paul Bettencourt, the tax assessor and collector for Harris County, which includes Houston, estimated that the county had suffered $41.6 million in damages, a fraction of the loss of $50 billion to $80 billion that had been expected if Hurricane Rita had remained a Category 5 storm and hit Houston head-on instead of veering off to the east.

With evacuees streaming back to Houston, there were some traffic jams on southbound Interstate 45, but little of the gridlock that marred the mass evacuation on Thursday and Friday. Motorists appeared, for the most part, to be abiding by a staggered plan that designated different return dates for various sections of the city.

In New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin resumed plans to reopen the city gradually, inviting people in the Algiers section to return on Monday. Business owners in other parts of the city, particularly the French Quarter, were also allowed back.

But officials made clear that residents would not be coming back to the city they knew.

"We want people to return and help us rebuild the city," Mr. Nagin said. "However, we want everyone to assess the risks and make an informed decision about re-entry plans."

An information sheet handed to returning residents said, "Welcome home!" But it also warned, "You are entering the City of New Orleans at your own risk."

It added, "There are still many health and safety issues."

In Algiers, an area with 60,000 residents before Hurricane Katrina struck, business owners and residents were allowed to start returning at 10 a.m. for inspections. Many stores had opened by then, and plenty of residents were returning.

Hulon Matherne put plywood signs by the road to point the way to his barbershop. He had an electric razor in his right hand and a pistol in his belt. He was giving a $12 haircut to Davis Mena, 4, and Pat Cargol was next in line. The other chairs had been stolen after the storm, and the other barber had quit to make quick money in construction.

"We're going to survive," Mr. Matherne said. "Those that want to work will survive. That's why I busted my buns to get back here."

In the French Quarter, business operators became giddy when the power came back on around 11 a.m. on Monday.

Within an hour, bartenders had rushed into the Bourbon Street Blues Company and the Famous Door. "We're happy to be back, and we ain't going nowhere," said Phil Uson, the owner of both establishments. "People have heard New Orleans is done, we're closed, we're not coming back. That's so far from the truth."

Mr. Uson predicted that his clubs would be "seminormal." "Mardi Gras will be the start of everything again," he said.

Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that all major conventions, the lifeblood of the tourist economy, had been canceled through March 31, when the convention center is expected to reopen after being repaired and refurbished. The center was the scene of widespread despair immediately after the flood, serving as a gathering place for thousands of hungry and homeless residents.

Mr. Perry said 80 percent of the city's hotels could be back in operation by the end of October, and 90 percent to 95 percent by Christmas. Tourism, the city's largest industry with 85,000 jobs, will begin to recover near the end of the year, he said, first through rescue workers and contractors, then through individual visitors and small meetings and conventions, and finally with the major events.

"The outpouring of emotion and support from around the country has really stunned us," Mr. Perry said. "People know this is a very special place."

And there were glimmers of that on Monday, like the sight of Scott Boswell, a celebrated local chef, handing out fliers for his newly opened restaurant Stanley (a counterpoint to his well-known Stella!), where he was selling cheeseburgers for $5. The place was full of excited rescue workers and French Quarter residents.

Business owners conceded that there would not be enough customers for months for all the businesses that wanted to reopen, but they said everyone was eager to return, to show that they could and to keep their employees.

"I've told everyone, New Orleans is a feeling, it's a disease," said Jim Monaghan, owner of Molly's at the Market, which reopened hours after Hurricane Katrina passed and was host to a healthy collection of residents and others drinking beer on Monday. "And once you've got it, it doesn't go away. I guarantee you, we'll help each other out, we'll frequent each others businesses, we'll do what's needed to get us through this."

Peter Applebome reported from New Orleans for this article, and Ralph Blumenthal from Houston. Michael Brick contributed reporting from New Orleans; Simon Romero from Beaumont, Tex.; and Maureen Balleza from Houston.

With Storms Behind Them, Gulf Residents Begin Piecing Their Lives Together,
NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/national/nationalspecial/27storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Bush

said Monday that the government

is prepared to again tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

 

Photograph:

Jim Watson/AFP-Getty Images        NYT        26.9.2005

 

To Conserve Gas, President Calls for Less Driving        NYT        27.9.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/business/27econ.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Conserve Gas,

President Calls for Less Driving

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times

By DAVID LEONHARDT,
JAD MOUAWAD and DAVID E. SANGER

 

With fears mounting that high energy costs will crimp economic growth, President Bush called on Americans yesterday to conserve gasoline by driving less. He also issued a directive for all federal agencies to cut their own energy use and to encourage employees to use public transportation.

"We can all pitch in," Mr. Bush said. "People just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption," he added, and that if Americans are able to avoid going "on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful."

Mr. Bush promised to dip further into the government's petroleum reserve, if necessary, and to continue relaxing environmental and transportation rules in an effort to get more gasoline flowing.

On Capitol Hill, senior Republicans called for new legislation that they said would lower energy costs by increasing supply and expanding oil refining capacity over the long run.

Even though Hurricane Rita caused much less damage to the oil industry than feared, the two recent hurricanes have disrupted production in the Gulf of Mexico enough to ensure that Americans are facing a winter of sharply higher energy costs. The price of natural gas, which most families use to heat their homes, has climbed even more than the price of gasoline recently.

Households are on pace to spend an average of $4,500 on energy this year, up about $500 from last year and $900 more than in 2003, according to Global Insight, a research firm.

Mr. Bush's comments, while similar to remarks he made shortly after the disruption from Hurricane Katrina pushed gasoline prices sharply higher, were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation. It has also opted not to impose higher mileage standards on automakers.

In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy." Also that year, Ari Fleischer, then Mr. Bush's press secretary, responded to a question about reducing American energy consumption by saying "that's a big no."

"The president believes that it's an American way of life," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Bush, speaking yesterday after he was briefed at the Energy Department, did not use the dour tone or cardigan-wearing imagery that proved politically deadly for Jimmy Carter during the oil crisis of the 1970's. Nor did Mr. Bush propose new policies to encourage conservation. But he was more explicit than in the past that Americans should cut back.

Oil companies spent much of yesterday assessing the damage from Hurricane Rita, which seemed to spare many oil and gas facilities. Still, the gulf's entire oil output and about four-fifths of its natural gas production remained shut yesterday, less than a month after Katrina left the industry stretched thin.

The Gulf of Mexico produces about 7 percent of the oil consumed in the United States and provides 16 percent of the nation's natural gas.

About half of the 16 refineries that were forced to shut by Hurricane Rita have said they plan to restart production soon. But delays in refining pushed the average price of gasoline up again for the first time since Labor Day, to $2.80 a gallon for regular gasoline, according to AAA.

Crude oil prices also rose yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, closing up 2.5 percent, to $65.82 a barrel. Natural gas futures rose 12 cents, to $12.44 a thousand cubic feet.

"We've been in a chronic situation here where supplies have not really caught up with demand," said Dave Costello, an analyst at the Energy Information Administration.

In response to higher energy costs, households are likely to spend less on restaurant meals, clothing and other items. That would slow economic growth in coming months, but economists predicted that other forces - like a continuing housing boom and rising corporate investments in factories and equipment - would keep the economy growing.

"I don't think we're talking about a recession or a near recession," said Joshua Shapiro, the chief United States economist at MFR, a research company in New York. "I think we're talking about growth that is slower than people expected."

Households are now spending about $550 billion a year on energy, up by about $150 billion since the start of last year, according to Global Insight. Over the course of an entire year, the increase would be equal to almost 2 percent of overall consumer spending.

Energy costs are likely to be a particular burden on low- and middle-income households, whose income growth has barely matched inflation over the last few years. Wealthier households have done better, government data show, and have helped keep economic growth healthy with spending on second homes, new vehicles and the like.

Although more forecasters, including Federal Reserve officials, remain optimistic, some say that the spike in energy costs could lead to something of a tipping point for consumers. Families have already begun saving less money in response to higher energy costs, and they might eventually decide to rethink other parts of their budget.

"The best leading indicator of consumer spending is real average hourly earnings," which have been hurt by higher energy costs, said Joseph H. Ellis, a former Goldman Sachs partner and the author of a forthcoming book on the business cycle. "I think we're heading into a very difficult 2006."

In Washington, two House committees are expected to consider proposals this week that have been blocked in the past by environmental objections. Beyond making it easier to build new refineries, one proposal would allow states to opt out of Congressional bans on coastal oil drilling, and another would allow drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has been controversial for years.

"Families who are paying more than $3 for a gallon of gasoline cannot afford to watch Congress block more clean U.S. energy production while they suffer," said Representative Richard Pombo, Republican of California and chairman of the Resources Committee.

The oil and gas industry supported the moves. John B. Walker, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of American, said areas now off limits offshore and in Alaska "could supply our nation with more than 100 years of natural gas - and save U.S. consumers upward of $500 billion."

Environmental groups said drilling advocates were trying to take advantage of anxiety from the storms and rising gasoline prices to push proposals that did not survive in the recently passed energy bill.

"It is kind of sad," said Kevin Curtis, legislative director at the National Environmental Trust. "There is nothing here that helps the consumer at the gas pump short term."

While attention has been focused on gasoline prices, the spike in natural gas prices has the potential to pose a bigger economic threat.

Households that use natural gas will pay an average $1,130 to heat their homes this winter, an increase of almost $400, according to federal government estimates. The price of natural gas in futures markets has more than doubled since 2000 and is six times what it was throughout the 1990's.

Carl Hulse, in Washington, contributed reporting for this article.

    To Conserve Gas, President Calls for Less Driving, NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/business/27econ.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Mulls Recovery Plan

as Evacuees Begin Long Journey Home

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times
By MARIA NEWMAN

 

President Bush said today that he was considering naming a federal "czar" to oversee the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast after the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but only after he heard more from state and local officials about how they would like to see their communities rebuilt.

During remarks a day after returning from Colorado, Texas and Louisiana, where he had been briefed by military and other federal officials about the status of Rita, Mr. Bush would not say whether he would make the military the lead agency in charge of future disasters, something he had suggested in the past few days.

Mr. Bush spoke as the mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, announced that residents of the city's Algiers section, on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, would be free to return home for inspections and cleanup work. The Algiers section, which was mostly unaffected by flooding after Katrina, has electricity, water and sewer service. The mayor announced plans before Rita struck to reopen the city to residents and business owners section by section, but those plans were tabled last week as the storm moved through the Gulf of Mexico.

The mayor said that now that the danger had passed, he would proceed with plans to reopen some parts of the city. Business owners from the historic French Quarter, Uptown and the Central Business District will also be able to return soon as well, he said, telling residents to "help us rebuild the city."

Even before the mayor issued his official call to get residents back in, many business owners had already opened up shop in Algiers, some having stayed through the last evacuation order last week.

Hulon Matherne used plywood boards left over as cover from the storm as makeshift signs to point the way to his newly reopened barber shop.

With an electric razor in his right hand and a pistol in his belt, he was giving a $12 haircut to Davis Mena, 4. The other chairs had been stolen, after the storm, and the other barber who used to work alongside him had quit to make quick money in construction.

"We're going to survive," Mr. Matherne said. "Those that want to work will survive. That's why I busted my buns to get back here."

At Michelly's Lounge nearby, the video poker machines were working, the People's Court was on the TV and a dozen or so men were drinking bottled domestics.

"The only help Michelly's would need is being able to get more beer in here fast enough," said the barmaid, Theresa Maher.

Mack Breaux, a sometime lawyer turned land-flipper, was sitting at the bar in a Fighting Tigers T-shirt.

"Most of the people from Algiers and Louisiana are not going to be leaving, because we've got too many ties here," Mr. Breaux said. "This is God's country. Everybody will be back here."

In Texas, officials set up a voluntary, staggered plan for an "orderly migration" with different areas going home on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to avoid the massive gridlock that accompanied the exodus out.

In San Jacinto County, Texas, north of Houston, Judy Eaton, a spokesperson for the office of emergency management, confirmed that a 3-year-old boy was killed when a tree fell on his family's trailer home in Point Blank, Texas. Rita's center passed near here, and residents here felt its force.

She had no details, but confirmed that the boys parents and sister survived. She said that shelters had been open but that the family had opted to ride out the storm at home.

"Most of the people here feel more safe at home than they would anywhere," she said.

Today the county, about 80 miles northeast of Houston, is mostly without electricity and telephones and basic necessities. Fire trucks will be sent into areas that have been isolated to assess damage and deliver food and water.

"Generators, generators, generators," Ms. Eaton said in a phone interview this morning, when asked what the most pressing need was. And ice. She said people who require the assistance of various medical machines need electricity to run them.

"We do not have the generators needed here to meet those needs," she said. "We have no fuel. The stores aren't open. We've got the county judge in back - he's unloading trucks."

She said the area was in the direct path of the storm- which passed over Livingston 20 miles to the north of the county seat in Cold Spring.

"I've never seen anything like it," she said. "The wind was howling and seething. It just felt like there were tornados inside the wind turning the trees."

The president, on his trips to Colorado, where he had monitored the storm's landfall from a military facility, and Louisiana, did not visit any areas directly affected by the recent storms, but said he would make another trip to visit devastated areas on Tuesday.

During his remarks at the Energy Department in Washington, Mr. Bush said that while he might appoint a federal administrator for rebuilding after the storms, he first wanted to hear what ideas local officials had in mind for how to remake their communities.

"I'm considering how best to balance the need for local vision and federal involvement," he said. "The vision and the element of reconstruction is just beginning and there may be a need for an interface with a particular person to help to make sure that the vision becomes reality."

Louisiana's Republican senator, David Vitter, said today on the NBC "Today Show" that he had urged the president to place "a strong federal leader on the Katrina reconstruction effort" beyond the short-term relief effort.

"If the American people lose confidence in this effort, Louisiana and the victims of the storm are going to suffer, so we have to have those protections in place," Mr. Vitter said.

Mr. Bush was also asked by reporters about an idea he has discussed in recent days, about possibly making the military the lead agency in charge in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist attack. Such a move would require Congressional approval because of legal limits placed on the military's domestic activities.

"I want there to be a robust discussion about the best way for the federal government, in certain extreme circumstances, to be able to rally assets for the good of the people," he said. "I don't want to, you know, prejudge the Congress's discussion on this issue because it may require a change of law. But I do want them to think about a circumstance that requires a lot of planning and a lot of assets immediately on the scene in order to stabilize.

"I think it's very important for us, as we look at the lessons of Katrina, to think about other scenarios that might require a well-planned, significant federal response right off the bat to provide stability," he said.

Maureen Balleza contributed reporting for this article from Houston and Michael Brick contributed reporting from New Orleans.

    Bush Mulls Recovery Plan as Evacuees Begin Long Journey Home, NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Shares Rise

as Storm Does Less Damage Than Feared

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

Stocks fluctuated before closing modestly higher yesterday as oil prices neared $66 a barrel despite lower-than-expected damage estimates from Hurricane Rita.

Wall Street made a strong early advance on reports that crucial petroleum facilities along the Texas coastline escaped the storm with relatively less damage than during Hurricane Katrina last month. Investors also welcomed new data showing that August sales of preowned homes reached their second-highest level ever.

Volatile afternoon energy trading briefly led stocks into negative territory, even after President Bush said the government would tap the nation's reserves to make up for lost oil production from the recent storms. But despite higher oil prices, Wall Street rallied in the last hour of trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 24.04 points, or 0.23 percent, to 10,443.63. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 0.34 point, or 0.03 percent, to 1,215.63. The Nasdaq composite index added 4.62 points, or 0.22 percent, to 2,121.46.

The advance on Wall Street extends a brief recovery from the end of last week, when Hurricane Rita weakened and eased fears of damage similar to the havoc caused by Katrina in late August.

Analysts said that with no major headlines driving the market, oil prices and interest rates were once again investors' primary concerns.

Oil prices are 40 percent higher than year-ago levels, but linger below a record of $70.85 a barrel reached after Katrina knocked out 90 percent of the region's capacity. A barrel of light crude added $1.63, to settle at $65.82 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gasoline futures rose 4.4 cents, to $2.129 a gallon.

Investors spent part of the session assessing softer comments made by the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, about the housing market. Mr. Greenspan, who recently expressed concerns about an overheating market, told people attending a California banking conference that most homeowners had enough equity to cushion the impact of a drop in prices if demand suddenly waned. Wall Street interpreted his remarks as a sign the Fed was comfortable increasing rates again when it meets in November.

Mr. Greenspan's comments came after the National Association of Realtors reported existing-home sales grew 2 percent last month, dodging economists' predictions for a decline as an indication that the housing boom was finally starting to slow.

In corporate news, Boeing climbed after reaching a tentative labor agreement with its mechanics, who walked off the job three weeks ago. Boeing rose $1.47, to $64.67.

Shares of Delphi plunged on renewed bankruptcy concerns. The company warned on Friday of plant closings and layoffs if it could not secure more cash. Shares of Delphi slumped 47 cents, to $2.99.

Walgreen, the drugstore chain, reported its quarterly profit rose about 1 percent after costs from Katrina. Excluding charges, Walgreen's earnings of 35 cents a share still missed Wall Street estimates by 2 cents. Shares of Walgreen fell $1.01, to $41.50.

FedEx said income for the current period might also be hurt by Katrina as service to New Orleans continued to be disrupted. FedEx, however, did not estimate the hurricane's impact in its quarterly report filed Friday. FedEx rose 58 cents, to $83.68.

Bonds continued to slide, with the price of the 10-year Treasury note falling 13/32, to 9921/32. The yield, which moves in the opposite direction from the price, rose to 4.29 percent, from 4.24 percent on Friday.

Following are the results of yesterday's auction of three- and six-month Treasury bills.

    Shares Rise as Storm Does Less Damage Than Feared, NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/business/27stox.html

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Victims Facing Hurdles on Bankruptcy

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times

By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
and RIVA D. ATLAS

 

When Congress agreed this spring to tighten the bankruptcy laws and crack down on consumers who took on debt irresponsibly, no one had the victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind.

But four weeks after New Orleans flooded and tens of thousands of other residents of the Gulf Coast also lost their homes and livelihoods, a stricter new personal bankruptcy law scheduled to take effect on Oct. 17 is likely to deliver another blow to those dislocated by the storm.

The law was intended to keep individuals from taking on debts they had no intention of paying off. But many once-solvent Katrina victims are likely to be caught up in the net intended to catch deadbeats.

Right after Hurricane Katrina struck, several lawmakers - mostly Democrats but including some Senate Republicans - suggested that storm victims along the Gulf Coast should get relief from the new law's stricter provisions, which are intended to screen filers by income and make those with higher incomes repay their debts over several years. Under the old law, which remains in effect until mid-October, many more filers can have their debts canceled quickly in federal bankruptcy courts.

But House Republicans, who fought off a proposed amendment that would have made bankruptcy filings easier for victims of natural disasters, said there was no reason to carve out a broad exemption just because of the storm.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, rejected the notion of reopening the legislation, saying it already included provisions that would ensure that people left "down and out" by the storm would still be able to shed most of their debts. Lawmakers who lost the long fight over the law, he said, "ought to get over it," according to The Associated Press.

A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said the administration "doesn't see a lot of merit" in calls to delay the law's effective date but was considering making allowances for hurricane victims.

In the meantime, many victims of Hurricane Katrina - and the much smaller group ruined by Hurricane Rita - will face a kind of Catch-22. Those who try to beat the Oct. 17 deadline in hopes of filing under the less-onerous current law may find it impossible to do so, because residence rules generally require that individuals seek protection against creditors in their hometowns. (Assuming people in New Orleans can find their lawyers and records, they can file for bankruptcy protection in their bankruptcy court, which has reopened and is sharing space with another court in Baton Rouge.)

Moreover, most people displaced by the storm will probably not know for months if they even need to file for bankruptcy. By that time, the tougher new law will be in force.

"Six to nine months from now, FEMA will be gone, the church groups will be gone and creditors will once more be demanding their money," said Bradford W. Botes, a bankruptcy lawyer whose firm represented victims of Hurricane Ivan, which struck Florida a year ago.

Keith and Bridget Cloud are among those already worrying about how to pay their bills while picking up the pieces of their lives. Mr. Cloud, 39, has owned a lawn care business in New Orleans for 12 years, employing four people. Ms. Cloud, 38, was a group-home manager for a nonprofit agency that sheltered homeless people. Two years ago, they bought a house, moved in with their five children and began paying down their mortgage.

"We weren't millionaires or anything, but we were just making it," Ms. Cloud said in a telephone interview from Houston last week, as the couple and their three oldest children were fleeing again, this time from the threat of Hurricane Rita, decamping temporarily in Laredo, Tex., and then in Corpus Christi. (Their two younger children are with relatives in Alabama.)

"If we have to file," Ms. Cloud said, "don't make it harder for us than it already is."

Personal and business bankruptcy filings usually reach a peak two to three years after a hurricane, according to a study about bankruptcy and hurricanes, soon to be published in The Nevada Law Journal, by Robert M. Lawless, a law professor at the University of Nevada.

Mr. Lawless said he was surprised by the pattern. Previous research on bankruptcy filings and natural disasters had not shown a connection, he said, apparently because analysts were looking only at the months immediately after floods or storms.

He said his finding was in keeping with research on the overall level of economic activity after hurricanes, which shows there is often a short-term growth spurt as federal aid and construction money are pumped into disaster areas. The bankruptcy filings come later, as people who have lost their houses or jobs are overwhelmed by the debts they incur while trying to rebuild.

"Areas hit by major hurricanes will suffer great financial distress and that distress will linger for long after the media glare has disappeared," Mr. Lawless writes.

Defenders of the new law note that judges will still have the discretion to waive its strict restrictions on filing under Chapter 7, a faster and simpler type of bankruptcy that, among other things, allows consumers to walk away from some obligations.

"There's nothing in the bill to suggest that you can get blood from a stone," Todd J. Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University, said in an interview last week between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "The new legislation is perfectly suited to deal with circumstances such as this."

Mr. Zywicki said that as drafted, the new law still gave judges the discretion to identify victims of "special circumstances," like hurricanes, and to let them use Chapter 7 provisions.

But consumer bankruptcy lawyers worry that there is little incentive in the law for judges to give hurricane victims a break. They also complain about a long list of new demands it makes on individuals.

Among the hurdles in the new law that could most affect hurricane victims is a means test. It requires debtors to provide an estimate of their income by taking an average of their most recent six months' earnings before they can file under Chapter 7. Debtors with higher incomes are to be kept in bankruptcy status for several years, to pay off their debts.

But "someone who had a great job just before Katrina may have a very different income today," Mr. Botes, the bankruptcy lawyer, noted.

The new law also requires every individual to undergo credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy protection. "It's not right to make people who lost everything go through a course about how to manage their finances," Mr. Botes said.

The law has stiffer requirements as well for what records must be produced by the debtor. But hurricane victims will have a hard time doing that. "Thousands and thousands of people no longer have checkbooks, insurance papers, car titles (or cars), birth certificates, Social Security cards or wallets," a group of Louisiana lawyers said in a letter two weeks ago to the state's Congressional delegation.

The harsher requirements already had thousands of consumers rushing to file bankruptcy petitions ahead of the deadline. Despite a strong economy, quarterly filings for the period from April through June jumped 11 percent from the quarter a year earlier, to a record 467,333, the American Bankruptcy Institute reported.

Now, many previously solvent families and small businesses find themselves facing such pressure, but with little hope of getting into court ahead of the deadline.

"Think of the position of these debtors, many of whom would have not had to file bankruptcy otherwise," said Lynn M. LoPucki, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "They have until Oct. 17 to file under the old law that was less restrictive than this new law. But the odds that they can do that are pretty slim because the lawyers who would serve them are out in refugee camps somewhere."

The Cloud family is a good example. After Hurricane Katrina hit, they left for Houston, where they lived for a couple of weeks in the Astrodome. The day after they were given a temporary apartment, Houston was evacuated for Hurricane Rita and they drove in a borrowed car to Laredo. Bouncing from place to place, they have found it hard to determine the extent of their losses in New Orleans.

Mr. Cloud has returned to New Orleans just once so far. He found that the family house had been spared, but that his company's three trucks, only two fully paid for, had been destroyed. So the company will have to pay off a loan for one vehicle that no longer exists.

His insurer will cover only part of the loss, and it has warned that it will not cover the vehicles' contents. Mr. Cloud stored his riding lawn mowers and other costly equipment aboard the trucks, so he will bear those losses himself.

Ms. Cloud estimated that 80 percent of her husband's customers, mostly apartment complexes, were in the New Orleans flood zone. They have no idea when, if ever, the property owners will need his services again. While they wait, they are scraping together funds to buy new lawn care equipment and a truck.

Ms. Cloud has already received her last paycheck, so they will have to dip into their savings, she said. She has requested a small-business loan application from FEMA, but the papers have not yet arrived. Meanwhile, bills are coming due.

Ms. Cloud said she wondered if the family would end up in bankruptcy court. They had a near-miss once before, when her husband and his brother, then a co-owner of the lawn care business, had a dispute. They were able to resolve the problem without filing for bankruptcy, Ms. Cloud said, and she has been trying to call the New Orleans lawyer who helped them. So far, she has not been able to get a call through.

Professor LoPucki said: "These people could, I guess, go to bankruptcy lawyers in the places where they are. But they are supposed to file in New Orleans."

Individuals are supposed to file wherever they have spent most of the previous 180 days. That will pose a problem for long-term evacuees.

Michael D. Allday, a New Orleans lawyer, said he had one client, a single mother with medical bills exceeding $75,000, who had been planning to file for bankruptcy just before Katrina struck.

"Now she's lost her job on a riverboat casino," he said. The woman resettled in Little Rock, Ark., and Mr. Allday said he thought she should file there. But before she can do so, other bankruptcy lawyers noted, she will have to wait several months to fulfill the residence requirement. By that time, of course, the new law will be in force.

Professor LoPucki said he thought the majority of lawmakers were averse to enacting blanket bankruptcy relief for hurricane victims because that might raise questions about why victims of other uncontrollable events - like accidents, major illnesses or mass layoffs - should not get a break, too.

"If you admit that the bill is bad for Katrina victims," he said, "then there's really no reason it isn't bad for the others, too. They're all in some kind of problem. For most of them, it's largely their fault. But for a lot of them, it isn't their fault."

    Storm Victims Facing Hurdles on Bankruptcy, NYT, 27.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/business/27bankrupt.html

 

 

 

 

 


The Old Laws and the New

 

September 27, 2005
The New York Times

 

Following are some of the differences between the current law and the new law:



The current law:

- Was enacted in 1978 and became effective in 1979.

- Lets individuals chose between two forms of bankruptcy. The more popular, Chapter 7, lets people discharge unsecured debts, such as medical bills and credit card debt. But they can lose assets that secure debts, like houses or cars.

- In the other type, Chapter 13, individuals try to pay their debts over three to five years, with protection from their secured creditors.



The new law:

- Was enacted in April and becomes effective on Oct. 17.

- Requires filers to provide more documentation.

- Requires all filers to complete a federally approved credit counseling program.

- Allows filers to use Chapter 7 only if a means test shows that they earn less than the median for their state, and do not have enough income, after living expenses, to repay at least $6,000 over five years.

- Requires filers with more resources to file Chapter 13.

- Gives judges discretion to let higher-income debtors file under Chapter 7, if they have "special circumstances."

The Old Laws and the New, NYT, 27.9.2005,
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/business/27bankbox.html

 

 

 

 

 

Water recedes from Gulf Coast

 

Mon Sep 26, 2005 10:34 PM ET
Reuters
By Ellen Wulfhorst

 

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita's floodwaters receded on Monday from the U.S. Gulf Coast to reveal devastation in Louisiana's Cajun swamplands, while other parts lurched back to life after the second major storm in less than a month.

At least six deaths in Texas and Mississippi were blamed on Rita, police said, but despite taking the brunt of the storm, Louisiana appeared to have recorded no casualties. The heartland of U.S. oil production was bruised, but not as badly as after Hurricane Katrina less than a month ago.

"This is not going to be easy folks, it's not going to be fast. Recovery is a slow, methodical process," said David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Paulison said mass evacuations clearly saved lives.

More than 1,000 deaths were blamed on Hurricane Katrina, which blasted ashore over Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on August 29.

In Louisiana's coastal Cajun country, where Rita pushed up to 15 feet of sea water 35 miles inland, Coast Guard, wildlife wardens and National Guard troops rescued hundreds of people from rooftops or atop water tanks.

In Cameron Parish on Monday, homes lay shredded, cowboys on horseback tried to herd stranded cattle to dry land and hundreds of dead nutria, a beaver-like aquatic rodent that has become a pest in Louisiana, littered the marsh.

"It is bad. Cameron is destroyed. The only building usable in Cameron and Creole combined is the courthouse," Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of military relief operations after Katrina, told CNN. "It is a bad situation."

Officials said 98 percent of Cameron's 10,000 people had evacuated before the storm and no deaths were reported.

Low-lying New Orleans, ruined by Katrina and partly flooded again after Rita swept through, began to allow residents of one of its most devastated neighborhoods to check on their homes.

Some in St. Bernard Parish, allowed back for the first time after Katrina, saw what last month's hurricane had done when floodwaters breached the levees protecting the city and also tore apart a tank of crude oil at a nearby refinery.

 

'MAKES ME CRY'

"I don't know what I think. Thinking makes me cry," said Diane Delaune, 44, as she stood outside her house and looked at black sludge coating the ground and thick, alien-looking blue-gray mold stretching 9 feet up her walls.

"We'll rebuild and then we're selling the son of a bitch." said her husband Kenny, 51, as he hauled out the couple's few unscathed possessions.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's office warned those returning not to drink or bathe in the city's water, except in the district of Algiers, and not to expect medical services. It urged residents to wear protective gloves and masks.

Evacuees streamed back into Houston, which was spared Rita's worst, and although the return was far more orderly than the chaotic evacuation of the fourth largest U.S. city, traffic was heavy and shops remained low on supplies.

Mayor Bill White asked grocery stores, gas stations and mass transit lines to get employees back as quickly as possible as the region's population swelled toward normal levels.

Rita's death toll jumped to six on Monday, when five people were found dead in an apartment in Beaumont, Texas, from breathing carbon monoxide from a generator, District Chief Jeff McNeel of the Beaumont Fire Department said.

One person was killed in a tornado in Mississippi, and 23 elderly Texans died in a bus fire during Friday's evacuation. Reports of three other deaths in Texas were not confirmed.

Dusk-to-dawn curfews were in force across the coast from east Texas to southwest Louisiana, in places where Rita's 120 mph (190 kph) winds flattened buildings and brought down power lines.

Officials urged residents of largely empty cities and towns to stay away until power and other services were restored. Police warned potential criminals they were on patrol.

"We will not tolerate looting, zero tolerance, zero. We will have night vision capability," said Don Dixon, police chief of the chemicals and gambling city of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

"We own the streets, we will continue to own the streets."

 

DAMAGE AND OIL

California-based Risk Management Solutions estimated Rita's insured losses would be $4 billion to $7 billion, including up to $2 billion to offshore energy facilities. That excluded new damage in New Orleans, where Rita caused a levee breach.

Katrina caused an estimated $60 billion in insured losses.

The energy industry, already reeling from Katrina, took another shot from Rita as it plowed through oil rigs and into onshore refineries, at times with 175 mph (280 kph) winds.

Two large refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, faced possible four-week outages and at least two others were damaged. Several rigs were missing and Chevron Corp. said a major oil production platform had been severely damaged.

Crude futures jumped on doubts of a quick Gulf oil recovery, closing up $1.63 to $65.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in New Orleans, Michael Christie and Dai Wakayabashi in Baton Rouge, Mark Babineck, Erwin Seba and Jeff Franks in Houston, Kenneth Li in Lake Charles, Charles Aldinger in Washington, Carlos Barria in Cameron)

    Water recedes from Gulf Coast, R, 26.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-27T023244Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

After the Deluge,

a City Begins to Stir

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times
By MICHAEL BRICK

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 25 - Through the nights the pretty lights squint and the leftover winds cuss the city of the gone. The hotel marquees cast brand names to no audience. Comes the stillness.

First light Sunday woke the imposter City of New Orleans, population some few thousand interlopers, cleaners and keepers of the peace. They moved into empty streets contra-flowed at individual whim, TV vans following Army Corps of Engineers trucks past National Guard checkpoints to stare at floodwaters receding from where they had receded weeks before, Gentilly, Mirabeau Gardens, the Lower Ninth Ward, the drowned neighborhoods of Hurricane Katrina.

The rains and surges of Hurricane Rita soaked the gutters and trophies of the absent, the great bayou diaspora gone to Texas and Chicago and who knows, secreting away the city's soul in car trunks and empty pockets, their places usurped by a stage set of film crews, security guards, scribblers, contractors and caterers.

The feminine heart of this river city of easy familiarity is everywhere and nowhere, its exact physical place filled now with creaking screen doors, blown plastic awnings over Sweet Lorraine's and Tilly's Chapel Services, watery streets called Music and Arts and an occupying army of brazen strangers.

"It's like we went to sleep and ain't woke up yet," said Raymond Francois, a sheetrock contractor working for the downtown hotels while his family lives in exile.

Little more than a week ago, shop owners had been returning to Uptown, the French Quarter and the Central Business District to reopen after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The president of the United States had been planning to have coffee at Café du Monde. People had been excavating houses Zip code by Zip code in a steady, organized return to normalcy.

Federal officials had warned Mayor C. Ray Nagin that the city's sewer and electrical systems were not up to his preferred pace of repopulation, but the approach of Hurricane Rita rendered academic the arguments about infrastructure. By the end of the week, even the Salvation Army had uprooted its trailer on Canal Street for safer quarters.

"The fear I had was Rita would be the knockout punch to a city that still had its heart and soul," said Bruce Hicks, crisis manager for the Sheraton hotel downtown.

On these streets where the dramas of the South once unfolded in stories of riverboat gamblers, the first gloved boxing match and the debutante balls still chronicled in the society pages of The Times-Picayune, the narrative of the Great Flood was re-enacted over the weekend on an unpopulated diorama of the Crescent City.

"Where is the soul of New Orleans?" asked Oliver Thomas, the city council president. "Vegas and Utah, parts of Texas, California, Michigan, Baton Rouge. It's all over."

In the days before the storm, search-and-rescue teams in the Lower Ninth Ward spoke of the city's good fortune at having this abandoned wasteland as a buffer for the next floodwaters.

"There ain't nobody out here," said Capt. Tim Bayard, leader of the police recovery effort, standing on Jourdan Street before the storm came.

When the waters came, the deathless Southern conflicts of race and class were fought long distance. In the Lower Ninth Ward, an impoverished neighborhood that had been pumped dry after Katrina, waist-high waters lapped porches, while on the north side, repaired canals held. The contrast echoed patterns revealed during Katrina, this time on a safe canvas of rich houses and poor houses, all of them empty.

"The patchwork the corps did on the Ninth Ward was nowhere near the level they did on 17th Street," Mr. Thomas said. "It wasn't the same quality work."

He made his point by telephone from Baton Rouge, and when Mayor Nagin defended the Corps' work, he spoke from a temporary headquarters in a hotel guarded by soldiers with M-16's, saying, "I don't have those complaints."

As the winds lingered, search teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency camped in the Metairie section, at what had been the New Orleans Saints training facility, waiting for calm to resume searching for survivors and bodies, unhurried in the knowledge that there were few to find.

The main signs of life were in the towering corporate hotels downtown, the bruised Hyatt that Mayor Nagin has made his stage, the Sheraton where 1,400 police officers and firefighters sleep in 765 rooms, sharing 100,000 gallons of trucked-in water with 175 film crews and reporters and 200 contractors. Blackwater, the heavily armed security company charged with protecting compounds in Iraq, is being replaced here with a less-expensive choice now that no one remains to loot or riot.

"A week ago, you could sense the soul of New Orleans from the people who were still around," said Brett Anderson, the food critic of The Times-Picayune, who is doing what everyone in town is doing, covering the hurricanes. "There's no people. It's like trying to interview someone's guitar."

Now Mayor Nagin speaks of resuming his plan to repopulate the city as the pumps lurch back to work. The temporary citizens of New Orleans, men in T-shirts printed with the names of contracting companies and faraway police units, pass the nights in the bright hotel bars and a dank tavern of the French Quarter. Out in the streets, riders in a lone Impala passed three checkpoints in the storm, firing rifle shots at twisted street signs, among the last mavericks in the vanished city.

"They were definitely knuckleheads," said Sgt. First Class Rodney Vincent of the Oklahoma National Guard. "I think they were just riding around shooting, letting people know they were still around." -

    After the Deluge, a City Begins to Stir , NYT, 26.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-nola.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Bush urges gas conservation

 

Mon Sep 26, 2005 1:14 PM ET
Reuters

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Monday that about 1.8 million barrels per day in Texas and Louisiana refining capacity shut by recent hurricanes will be back on line soon, but urged American motorists to conserve gasoline wherever possible.

The 1.8 million bpd refining capacity will return "relatively quickly because the storm missed a lot of refining capacity down the Texas coast," Bush said after meeting with Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Rita hit the Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday with winds of 120 miles per hour and dumped a foot of rain on the coastal region. Two large Port Arthur, Texas, refineries owned by Valero and Total were expected to remain offline for repairs for up to a month.

Bush also said he would continue suspension of antipollution laws for gasoline and the Jones Act shipping law to help oil shipments in the wake of the hurricane. Both actions were taken after Hurricane Katrina last month hit Gulf Coast refineries hard.

"We will continue the waivers to allow the winter blends to be used through the country," Bush said, referring to Environmental Protection Agency actions soon after last month's Hurricane Katrina. "We have instructed the EPA to ... keep the suspension in place, which should ... increase the supply."

Bush also repeated that he was prepared to loan crude oil to refineries from the government's emergency stockpile.

"We're willing to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate any shortfalls that affect our consumers," he said.

Bush, a former Texas oilman, also said that the back-to-back hurricanes show the need for more U.S. refining capacity to meet gasoline demand.

"The storms have shown how fragile the balance is of supply and demand in America," he said.

In the meantime, American consumers should try to conserve fuel when possible. Federal employees will be encouraged to carpool or use mass transit, Bush said.

"We can all pitch in by being better conservers of energy -- people need to recognize the storm has caused disruption," he said.

    Bush urges gas conservation, R, 26.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-26T164215Z_01_WRI655435_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-ENERGY-BUSH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans Mayor

Reopens Drier Parts of City

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:09 a.m. ET

 

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Residents of one New Orleans neighborhood were invited to come home Monday and ''help us rebuild the city.''

The mayor's office announced that residents of Algiers, which largely escaped the flooding brought by the twin onslaughts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, would be able to return starting at 10 a.m. Algiers has electricity, water and sewer service.

In addition, business owners in the Central Business District, the French Quarter and the Uptown section would be allowed in to inspect property and clean up.

Other areas of the city remain under a mandatory evacuation order, the mayor's office said.

''With Hurricane Rita behind us, the task at hand is to bring New Orleans back,'' Mayor Ray Nagin said. ''We want people to return and help us rebuild the city. However, we want everyone to assess the risks and make an informed decision about re-entry plans.''

Algiers, a neighborhood of 57,000 people across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, also was the first section to reopen to residents last week, before the approach of Rita forced the city to halt its plan to reopen some neighborhoods.

Nagin said a curfew would be in place from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and warned there were limited police and firefighting services and no critical care hospital services. Only in the Algiers section was the city water fit for drinking or bathing. Residents returning were allowed to travel only within their ZIP codes.

Some residents of nearby St. Bernard Parish, heavily damaged by Katrina's flooding, also tried to return to the their homes Monday. They ran into a roadblock on Interstate 10 before daybreak and had a confrontation with police that backed up traffic for miles, WWL-TV reported.

State Trooper Lt. Chris Bodet said officers were trying keep the roads open for emergency vehicles, and had not been told to expect returning residents for a day or two.

Joseph DiFatta Jr., a St. Bernard Parish councilman, said the Parish Council had an agreement with Nagin's office to allow residents into the parish beginning at 6 a.m.

On Sunday, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said areas newly flooded this weekend by Rita could be pumped dry within a week after levee damage is repaired, far sooner than initially predicted.

Federal officials were coordinating with city officials on the effort to allow evacuated residents to return to dried-out areas. The plan is to reopen dried-out neighhorhoods inhabited by 250,000 to 300,000 of the city's half-million residents.

Visible signs of life Sunday included the reopening of restaurants and ubiquitous utility crews working to restore electricity.

''The city is not going to survive unless it's got people in it,'' Kappa Horn said Sunday as she served up burgers to a steady stream of police officers and others who came her Slim Goodies diner in the Garden District. ''I want to be part of rebuilding my city.''

Most of the city was spared significant new damage when Rita struck near the Texas-Louisiana line, but the hurricane's rain and storm surge partially breached levees along the Industrial Canal, causing renewed flooding in the already-devastated Ninth Ward. That is the section of east New Orleans that was submerged by Katrina and pumped dry just days before the second big storm.

The Army Corps of Engineers worked to pile rocks and sandbags in the breaks. Workers believe that once the breaches are closed, the Ninth Ward can be pumped dry in a week, said Mitch Frazier, a spokesman for the Corps.

Entergy, the state's biggest power company, was assessing new damage in hard-hit southwestern Louisiana. More than 200,000 customers still lack power in the New Orleans area.

Nagin has suggested that only people who are mobile -- not families responsible for children or elderly people -- come back. ''That's going to be the reality of New Orleans moving forward,'' he said.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal disaster effort in the city, sounded a further cautionary note.

''Where the mayor needs some thoughtful approach to is the areas that have been reflooded and the areas that may remain uninhabitable for safety, health and other reasons,'' the admiral said Sunday on ABC's ''This Week.'' ''And I think a timetable associated with that still needs to be worked out.''

He did agree with allowing business operators to return to unaffected areas and letting residents return to Algiers.

A few evacuees returned to the city Sunday aboard a flight from Cincinnati.

''You go from joy to disbelief to sadness to just being tired, to just wanting to go home,'' Paul Jordan said. ''Our goal is to help rebuild the city, and we're going to do whatever we can.''

 

Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed to this report.

New Orleans Mayor Reopens Drier Parts of City, NYT, 26.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Rita-New-Orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waters Receding in New Orleans;

Texans Return

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times
By PETER APPLEBOME

 

This article was reported by Peter Applebome, Rick Lyman and William Yardley, and written by Mr. Applebome.

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 25 - Tens of thousands of evacuees began returning to Houston on Sunday and water stopped flowing into twice-flooded New Orleans, as Hurricane Rita's sputtering remnants spread up the Mississippi Valley and into the Midwest.

After taking the hardest hit from the hurricane, the upper Texas coast and southwestern Louisiana began drying out on Sunday. The storm, which sent 3 million people in search of safer ground, left behind a wind-ravaged and water-logged swath of land. Many in Texas, though, marveled that the damage was lighter than expected, with Gov. Rick Perry calling it "miraculous."

In one positive development, oil prices plummeted Sunday as damage to refineries and oil facilities along the coast also turned out to be less than had been feared.

In Houston, where 2.5 million residents fled as the hurricane approached, tens of thousands of people returned on Sunday.

In New Orleans, the slow slog toward recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which was interrupted by Hurricane Rita, resumed on Sunday as Mayor C. Ray Nagin reiterated his intention to reopen drier parts of the city this week. Dry districts will eventually support a population of 250,000 to 300,000, he said.

Officials said the areas of New Orleans that were reflooded by Hurricane Rita could be pumped dry within a week, far sooner than originally predicted. Helicopters dropped huge sandbags into a gap in the Industrial Canal, a breach that had allowed water to flood back into the impoverished Lower Ninth Ward.

In the heart of Cajun country, which was battered by Hurricane Katrina's powerful winds nearly a month ago, swamplands from Terrebonne to Vermilion Parishes were hit with 15-foot storm surges, flooding towns and ruining homes and businesses.

President Bush paid the Gulf Coast another visit, less than a month after his administration drew heavy criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina. After monitoring Hurricane Rita at the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Mr. Bush on Sunday attended briefings on the government's response in San Antonio, Austin and Baton Rouge. He again gave a sense of just how much the storms had affected federal disaster planning, reiterating that military officials might take the lead role in planning for future catastrophic storms.

In Cameron Parish, which is just across the state line from Texas and caught the full brunt of the storm, small towns and fishing villages were all but destroyed.

The town of Cameron, population 2,000, remained under water in places on Sunday, and other towns, like Holly Beach, which has fewer than 200 residents, seemed to have disappeared.

A day after the eye of Hurricane Rita passed directly over the coastal parish, pushing a storm surge forecast to be as high as 20 feet in some places, familiar landmarks were gone - the fish camps, the store, the intersection of Highways 82 and 27 on the Gulf of Mexico.

"In Cameron, there's really hardly anything left," said Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. "Everything is just obliterated."

As the storm headed north, it was responsible for only two known deaths, a man whose mobile home was upended by a tornado in the Mississippi Delta and a man who was hit by a falling tree in Angelina County, Tex. Officials said the mass evacuation before the storm undoubtedly kept down the death toll.

But 24 elderly and frail residents of a Houston senior-living center were killed on Friday during the evacuation, when their bus caught fire south of Dallas after more than 14 hours on the road.

On Sunday, Mr. Bush heard blunt criticism of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina along with praise for the response to the latest storm, and he promised to take what he heard back to Washington.

In San Antonio, Maj. Gen. John White of the Army told the president that there had been chaos in the response to Hurricane Katrina, like when five or more helicopters responded to a rescue call for one person.

"That was a train wreck that we saw in New Orleans," General White said.

When responding to terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush said, the Defense Department takes the lead. In the event of natural disasters "of a certain size," he said, perhaps the military should also have the lead role, rather than the Department of Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters after Sunday's briefings that the president believes "very strongly" that Congress should consider putting the Pentagon in charge of the response to "extraordinary" natural disasters. Other needs, Mr. McClellan said, included a clear line of authority after such disasters, early evacuations, better coordination of rescue efforts and more attention to "special needs" cases, such as elderly or disabled people.

Returning to normalcy was a relative concept, but steps in that direction could be seen both in the places hit hardest by the two hurricanes and in those where damage was less than feared.

In Houston, traffic was heavy on many roads leading back into the city Sunday, but there was no replay of the excruciating exodus of last Thursday, which stalled thousands in traffic for 12 hours or more and left hundreds of people stranded without gasoline.

"We are seeing high traffic levels coming in, but the traffic is still flowing," said Judge Robert Eckels of Harris County, the top elected official there.

Some delayed their return, hoping to avoid traffic.

Jorge Andrade, who lives near the NASA Space Center outside Houston, said he spent 38 hours on the road to reach Dallas on Friday afternoon and is in no rush to repeat such a trip.

"I'm leaving maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day," Mr. Andrade, 57, said on Sunday. "There's just too much traffic, it's too hot, and there's not enough gasoline."

In Houston, which the hurricane only grazed, people were out jogging under blazing heat, and many businesses had reopened, as had the airports. Garbage pickup will resume on Monday, and schools will reopen on Wednesday.

"Rita Who?" read a sign outside Kenneally's Irish Pub on Shepherd Drive.

There was far less levity in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.

Just outside the town of Jasper, which was hit hard by the storm, Willie Newman, 31, and several friends went out with a backhoe, a bulldozer and several chainsaws to clear about 200 downed trees from Farm-to-Market Road 777.

A major problem in the area remained the lack of gasoline, power and air-conditioning.

"We're really lucky, but I don't think I could stand this heat," said Mr. Newman's grandmother, Verna Newman, 73.

In the Louisiana town of Mouton Cove, a community of cattle ranchers, commercial fishermen and oilfield workers, Hurricane Rita produced a tidal surge that buried almost everything under four to five feet of water.

When the floodwaters flowed into homes and businesses early Saturday morning, a call for volunteers and boats went out over local radio and television stations, asking residents to gather at the Abbeville Courthouse.

In the middle of the town square, dozens of people lined the streets and spent the day rescuing stranded neighbors.

"I think it's going to take a long time to get back to normal," said Brennan Billeaud, 23. "But we will, I hope."

Even in battered New Orleans, there were small signs of life and disagreements on how fast the city could begin to recover.

Kelly M. Gibson, a professional golfer who has been helping with recovery efforts, burst into the Royal Sonesta Hotel around noon to deliver some of the 2,000 meals he and helpers take to law enforcement officers and rescue workers each day. He said that it was important to fortify the people working to bring the city back, but that it would be a mistake to let businesses and homeowners return too quickly.

"The roads aren't safe, there are exposed wires all over, if we rush back in it would be a total disaster," he said.

Similarly, Mike Motwani, watching as workers put up plywood to replace glass broken by looters at his House of Voodoo minimart on Canal Street, one of 30 convenience stores he owns in New Orleans, said even downtown he would not expect to reopen his stores before 60 to 90 days.

"The workers are scattered everywhere," he said. "Who could work? And this is a convention city. There's not going to be business until the conventions return, and that's not going to be anytime soon."

Saint Jones, the general manager of the Unisexxx Club on Bourbon Street, was a bit more optimistic about reopening.

"This town is full of police, military people, firemen, and they're all making plenty of overtime," Mr. Jones said as he applied a new coat of white paint to the front door of the club. "We've got something they really want."

Peter Applebome reported from New Orleans for this article, Rick Lyman from Houston and William Yardley from Cameron, La. Reporting was contributed by Ralph Blumenthal in Houston, and Jere Longman and Michael Brick in Houma, La.

    Waters Receding in New Orleans; Texans Return, NYT, 26.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/national/nationalspecial/26storm.html

 

 

 

 

Waters Recede,

Leaving a Trail of Frustration

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times

By JERE LONGMAN and MICHAEL BRICK

 

HOUMA, La., Sept. 25 - When Michael and Haley Rich evacuated their mobile home along Bayou Grand Caillou ahead of Hurricane Rita, they left by car. On Sunday, they returned by boat.

The front porch had floated away. A scared kitten mewled on the raised doorstep, while a Labrador retriever sat mute on its doghouse in the flooded backyard.

"Oh, Lord, it stinks," Sam Roblind, a brother-in-law, said as he entered the front door to find soft spots and buckled tile in the floor, a leaky roof and ants scurrying for dry ground. "I'm not sure they'll get that smell out of the furniture."

Water began to retreat in the submerged low-lying bayou country of South Louisiana on Sunday, but anger welled as residents and officials of Terrebonne Parish, which includes Houma, began to survey the storm-surge damage. This is one place where Hurricane Rita was the worst recent storm; Hurricane Katrina brought only minimal wind damage to the area.

As Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco toured the area and called for $20.2 billion in federal money to strengthen the levee and pumping systems along the state's inundated coastal region, she found herself preaching to a sympathetic, if waterlogged, congregation.

For years, state residents and politicians have criticized what they believe is the federal government's indifference to the erosion of Louisiana's marshland and barrier islands that has lessened the state's buffer against major storms.

The economy of this parish of 110,000, about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, is driven by the fishing and oil industries.

The shrimpers and oyster fishermen have endured numerous hurricanes and floods. But to a person, those here said they had never seen a nine-foot tidal surge like the one that Hurricane Rita shoved into the canals and five prominent bayous of Terrebonne Parish.

"People clean up after themselves here, so floods don't get a lot of attention," Iris Billiot, the sister of Ms. Rich, said as she stood along Highway 57, just beyond the pond of a front yard. "But we need help."

Frustration seemed to spark like downed electrical wires in the bayou communities just south of here. Emergency management and law enforcement officials complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had yet to declare the parish a disaster area.

"FEMA? Who?" Jerry J. Larpenter, the sheriff of Terrebonne Parish, said dismissively, echoing the complaints of many officials elsewhere after Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Deroche, the parish's emergency management director, said he needed help from the agency to remove the 426 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina still housed in the local civic center. The center is now needed to shelter 916 evacuees from Hurricane Rita who are sleeping at two local schools and a recreation center, Mr. Deroche said.

Sheriff Larpenter also expressed his impatience with other parish officials, who did not issue a mandatory evacuation for the 20,000 residents in the lower part of Terrebonne Parish. No deaths were reported and 3,500 residents were rescued, the sheriff said, but the toll in lives could have been significant if the hurricane had hit the parish directly.

"When you have a Category 5 hurricane, the only word should be 'mandatory,' " Sheriff Larpenter said.

Along Highway 57, which runs 25 miles from here to the Gulf of Mexico, floodwater that covered the road on Saturday had receded about eight miles. National Guard troops from Arkansas moved roadblocks southward as the water retreated. But water still stood several feet in yards on both sides of the highway as residents began to return to their homes.

John LeBouef, 43, a carpenter, had his mobile home on stilts, but he lost a truck and some tools. His neighbor, Heath Monroe, 31, had his camper swamped.

"Two snakes came swimming out," Mr. Monroe, also a carpenter, said in a tone that suggested this was no more of an annoyance than mosquitoes. "I'm used to gators in the backyard."

The two neighbors paddled about in pirogues, Cajun canoes, and spoke of seeing deer on a nearby levee and a couple of redfish, a saltwater variety pushed up from the gulf, swimming through the front yard.

"That's barbecue material," Mr. Monroe said.

Cajuns here have burrowed into the bayous like mudbugs, and are famously independent and self-sufficient. Still, they appear to have grown weary of these watery confrontations with nature. The levees in Terrebonne Parish are earthen barriers designed for storm drainage, not for hurricane protection.

Shrimpers, already facing depressed prices, said many processing plants were underwater. Oystermen feared that silt stirred by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita would smother the mollusks in their reefs and set the industry back two to five years.

"It's that old saying, 'You can pay me now or pay me later,' " Representative Charlie Melancon, a Democrat who represents much of the flooded area of southeast Louisiana, said of the federal government and Louisiana's request for strengthened levees. "If they had given us the $14 billion we were asking for before Katrina, we wouldn't need $200 or $300 billion to clean up now."

Up and down Highway 57, mobile homes and clapboard houses sat in or just above the storm surge, while flowerbeds drowned under opaque water that stood waist deep. Children played in the water by the roadside. Men sat on porches, waded or rowed between the road and their homes. Near the Intracoastal Waterway, which had overflowed its banks, Louis Phillips stood on the road with a rolling suitcase, waiting for a ride.

"We've been having this problem for the longest time, and it took something like this Katrina to hit New Orleans" to bring national attention to the erosion of the Louisiana coastline, Mr. Phillips, 24, said.

Even before he re-entered his mobile home, Mr. Rich, 24, the assistant manager of an auto parts store, said he would seek higher ground somewhere in the area. He had just spent $3,000 rebuilding the engine of his car, whose front bumper was sheered away by Hurricane Rita, the grill stuffed with marsh grass.

"We don't plan on living around here after this," he said.

    Waters Recede, Leaving a Trail of Frustration, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/national/nationalspecial/26houma.html

 

 

 

 

 

Storms Cast Spotlight

on Energy's New Reality

 

September 26, 2005
The New York Times
By JAD MOUAWAD

 

The vast energy complex spread along the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast apparently escaped serious damage in the latest storm. But for an industry still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the recovery will be long and arduous, leaving global energy markets at the mercy of other natural disasters - or unforeseen twists in unpredictable oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Iran.

Once again, Hurricane Rita illustrated the energy market's new reality: with little production or refining capacity to spare, any disruption can have a big impact on tight and increasingly edgy markets. Until investments are made in new supplies, or demand slows down enough to ease the capacity squeeze, analysts warn that markets will remain volatile.

In the short run, much will depend on how quickly oil companies can restart their refineries and bring gasoline, natural gas and other products back to consumers. Energy prices, which had already soared in recent months because of fears that supplies were lagging demand, peaked last month after Hurricane Katrina cut production in the Gulf of Mexico and crimped many refiners.

By now, with the summer driving season at an end, refineries should have started building stockpiles of heating oil for the winter. Instead, most of them have been struggling to churn out more gasoline to make up for the lost refining capacity. Ahead of the peak winter demand, this leaves markets for heating oil and natural gas on shaky foundations and could mean higher prices in coming months.

"We really could have a very tight squeeze in October or November because we have no padding," said Amy Myers Jaffe, the associate director of Rice University's energy program.

"Anything that might have had a minor impact in the past, will have a major impact today - a war in the Middle East, an accident in Latin America, an explosion in Iraq," she said. "Anything could turn this into an even bigger crisis."

The most immediate concern for oil companies was the condition of the coastal refining system. The industry was already suffering from bottlenecks and shortfalls that caused retail shortages, gas lines and gasoline prices above $3 a gallon earlier this month. While oil, natural gas and gasoline prices have since retreated, more delays could send them shooting up again.

The Gulf Coast is by far the most sensitive region for America's energy supplies. Refineries in Texas and Louisiana account for nearly half the country's refining capacity, while the offshore waters produce nearly a third of the nation's oil and gas output. Most of those operations were shut down by Hurricane Rita and remained closed yesterday.

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, speaking to CNN yesterday morning, gave an upbeat assessment. He said the state's refineries had suffered "a glancing blow, at worst," adding, "hopefully they'll be back in production very soon." He also said that the offshore oil platforms appeared to be "in relatively good shape also."

The news helped ease some of the concerns that had built up on oil markets last week. At the New York Mercantile Exchange and London's International Petroleum Exchange, both open for special sessions yesterday, oil futures dropped.

In New York, crude oil for November delivery fell $1.14, to $63.05 a barrel. On Friday, the price fell 3.5 percent as Hurricane Rita's course shifted away from the main refining centers. By then, oil futures were down 9.4 percent from their peak of $70.85 a barrel, reached in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Initial estimates by insurance specialists put the damage from Hurricane Rita at $5 billion or less, far below the estimated $35 billion in damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

"We do not expect to see significant structural damage to the refineries," said Dr. Jayanta Guin, vice president of research at AIR Worldwide, a Boston firm that tracks hurricanes and the damage they inflict.

Still, on the Texas coast, the focus through the weekend was on how long it would take to restart the 16 refineries that were shut down by the storm.

Those refineries can process 4 million barrels of oil a day, or 23 percent of the country's total capacity, according to the Energy Department. Another four refineries, accounting for 5 percent of capacity, are undergoing repair after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Also, there was little sign of damage to the offshore infrastructure, according to the United States Coast Guard, whose initial survey found only two damaged drilling platforms and no traces of oil spills. By contrast, Hurricane Katrina destroyed about 50 small facilities and damaged a handful of major platforms.

Even if the damage from the latest storm proves to be light, oil production from the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be months away from returning to its normal level. Oil companies evacuated 80 percent of all the manned platforms operating in the gulf in anticipation of Hurricane Rita and shut down the region's oil production, about 1.5 million barrels a day.

The storm also forced the shutdown of oil import terminals along the coast, including the largest one, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which has a daily capacity of a million barrels, or about 10 percent of oil imports. In Texas, Port Arthur, Freeport, Corpus Christi and the port of Houston were also shut down.

The country's largest refinery, in Baytown, Tex., which is owned by Exxon Mobil and has a capacity of 557,000 barrels a day, seemed to have suffered only light damage from Hurricane Rita. The company said it was beginning to restart the refinery and had already delivered gasoline out of its storage tanks.

But the storm disruptions led Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, to issue an unusual recommendation to the nation's motorists.

"We ask that you use fuel wisely," the company said in newspaper advertisements yesterday. It suggested that drivers "conserve fuel by reducing trips" and "defer discretionary purchases to ease supply pressures."

Joseph B. Treaster contributed reporting for this article.

    Storms Cast Spotlight on Energy's New Reality, NYT, 26.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/business/26oil.html

 

 

 

 

 

Rita's toll,

damage less than feared

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 11:01 PM ET
Reuters
By Allan Dowd

 

ABBEVILLE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Rescuers waded through water or used boats and helicopters to search for people stranded in Louisiana's flooded Cajun country on Sunday, but U.S. officials breathed a sigh of relief that Hurricane Rita's passage had caused little loss of life.

The second powerful storm to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast in less than a month skimmed Houston, heart of the U.S. oil industry, when it slammed into the swampy Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday, and appeared to have largely spared the region's crucial refineries.

Wind, pounding rain and surging floodwater badly damaged small cities and remote swampland towns to Houston's east.

"We've seen the Gulf of Mexico relocate," said Randy Roach, mayor of the chemicals and gambling city of Lake Charles, saying the coastal parish of Cameron had disappeared under floodwaters. "The force of nature is something to behold."

But mass evacuations before the storm had emptied coastal areas, and police, National Guard troops and other rescue workers arrived quickly, so there was no repeat of the looting and chaos that besieged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"I have a raggedy house and it didn't blow down," said Dallas Clavelle, who rode out Hurricane Rita in his home in the east Texan refinery city of Port Arthur, hometown of the late rock singer Janis Joplin.

"The house shook a little and I went back to sleep."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the oil and natural gas industries had suffered a "glancing blow at worst" -- good news for U.S. consumers reeling under high gasoline prices. But he said the Lone Star State probably suffered $8 billion in damages.

Perry said he expected the federal government to "pay fully the cost of this."

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she would ask the U.S. government and Congress for $11.5 billion to repair the state's damaged transportation system, and $20.2 billion to rebuild the levees protecting ruined New Orleans from floods.

The levees, not built to withstand the most powerful hurricanes, gave way after Katrina and filled 80 percent of the famed city of jazz and Mardi Gras with rancid floodwaters.

"The challenge is so enormous that we cannot accomplish this rebirth without this president and without this Congress," Blanco told reporters after meeting with President George W. Bush in the Louisiana state capital Baton Rouge.

 

'STAY PUT'

Across the Gulf Coast, authorities urged millions of evacuees to stay put until water, sewage and electricity systems were back up and running.

In Lake Charles, which was partly submerged, buses gathered at the civic center to ferry people away.

New Orleans resident Kevin McCoy said he and his mother, her two cockatoos in a cage, had fled to Lake Charles after their hometown was devastated. Now they were evacuees again.

"My mum's really distraught," said McCoy. "She came here to be safe and then this happened. It's an exercise in patience. We're heading out to Atlanta. That's where ... there's the least amount of natural disasters."

To the southeast, in the coastal swamplands of the Louisiana bayous, home to the French-speaking Cajun community and culture, rescuers renewed efforts to find a number of people stranded in Abbeville, Pecan Island and Vermilion Bay, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Cameron Parish further west was entirely cut off by floods.

Some people clung to rooftops and oil tanks in water up to nine feet deep after storm, fighting off snakes that also wanted to reach dry land.

 

STORM SURGE

Rita's storm surge was 15 feet, half the height of the 30-foot (9-meter) wall of water Hurricane Katrina slung against the Mississippi coast less than a month ago.

Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan said it reached his own ranch 35 miles inland and he feared all 80 of his cattle had been killed.

Rita cut power to more than 2 million people in Texas and Louisiana, after dumping a foot of rain and lashing the region with 120 mph (190 kph) winds. Utility companies said it could take a month to fully restore electricity.

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. At least two big refineries would be closed for up to a month, oil companies said.

Bush, who had monitored Rita's arrival over three days, visited Baton Rouge on Sunday and said Congress ought to give the U.S. military the lead role in responding to natural disasters.

In Washington, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona 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."

Hurricane Katrina caused up to $60 billion in insured damages alone and killed more than 1,000 people, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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 evacuation from Houston.

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 after Rita.

Vice Adm. Thad Allen, head of the Katrina federal recovery efforts, said it could take until June to rebuild the levees.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Caren Bohan and Michael Christie in Baton Rouge, Jeff Franks in Houston, Andy Sullivan in Houma, Kenneth Li in Lake Charles and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin)

    Rita's toll, damage less than feared, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-26T030058Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

LA governor asks

for $32 billion for repairs

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 5:44 PM ET
Reuters

 

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - The governor of Louisiana, whose state was slammed by two powerful hurricanes in less than a month, said on Sunday she was asking the federal government for $31.7 billion to help rebuild the state's infrastructure.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she would ask Congress for $11.5 billion to rebuild the state's damaged transportation system, including rebuilding spans of a key interstate highway, damaged ports and airports.

She said she would seek $20.2 billion to rebuild and upgrade hurricane protection levees and pumping capacity from New Orleans to Morgan City, about 60 miles southwest.

Levees needing immediate repair and improvement include those around Lake Pontchartrain, which borders New Orleans, and all of those surrounding New Orleans, she said.

Levees around New Orleans were breached during Hurricane Katrina and again during Hurricane Rita.

Federal funds also would be used to evaluate levees from Morgan City across the state's southern coast all the way to the Texas border, according to a map distributed by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

The proposal also includes protection of levees along the Mississippi River from New Orleans southeast to the delta at Venice, Louisiana, according to the department.

Rebuilding Louisiana will be a "massive undertaking," Blanco said at a news conference following a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Baton Rouge.

"A great deal of our critical infrastructure is damaged," she said. "This is not something a small state like Louisiana can do by itself. Really, I don't think any state could accomplish the task ahead alone," she said.

"The challenge is so enormous that we cannot accomplish the rebirth of our state without the partnership of this president and this Congress."

    LA governor asks for $32 billion for repairs, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-25T214428Z_01_BAU570893_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-LOUISIANA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Relief as Rita spares lives, refineries

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 3:50 PM ET
Reuters
By Allan Dowd

 

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.

U.S. President 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 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 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)

    Relief as Rita spares lives, refineries, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-25T194918Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rescue workers search for Rita survivors

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:44 PM ET
Reuters
By Allan Dowd

 

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (Reuters) - Rescue teams searched for people stranded in Louisiana's flooded Cajun country while Texas officials urged nearly 3 million evacuees from Hurricane Rita not to rush home on Sunday.

The storm dumped up to a foot of rain and lashed the border region of the two states with 120 mile per hour (192 kph) winds when it crashed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.

Rita pushed in a 15-foot (4.5-meter) storm surge that swamped the Cajun communities of southern Louisiana and left hundreds of people stranded in or on top of their submerged homes.

The storm dealt a glancing blow to Houston, center of the U.S. oil industry, but badly damaged small towns and cities to its east.

Shaken survivors emerged to find a panorama of destroyed buildings, debris-strewn streets, downed power lines and toppled trees. Those who defied evacuation orders and rode out the storm said it was a frightening experience.

"I called on Jesus for four hours," Gloria Matthews told the Beaumont Enterprise. "The house was shaking and the wind was roaring."

A key natural gas installation in southern Louisiana known as Henry Hub, through which a third of the nation's natural gas flows and where spot gas prices are determined, was damaged by Rita, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.

"We understand there is a gas leak and ... a possible shearing of an oil storage tank," Blanco told CNN.

She gave no other details about the damage or its effects on gas delivery, but said the leak would have to be plugged.

"We're watching the situation very carefully," Blanco said.

Rita and Katrina knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of the U.S. refining capacity onshore.

At least three oil refineries were damaged by Rita, oil companies 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 in the stricken region.

Risk modeling experts said up to $6 billion in damages had been inflicted by Rita, which came less than a month after Hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi and Louisiana, leaving the historic city of New Orleans in ruins.

"We have been struck with another very strong hurricane and south Louisiana has been dealt a harsh blow, in fact all of Louisiana has been dealt a harsh blow," said Blanco, who toured the damage from Rita on Saturday.

More than a 1,000 people died from Katrina, but there was only one known Rita-relate death -- a person killed by a tornado in Belzoni, Mississippi.

In scenes similar to those that followed Katrina, emergency workers in boats and helicopters went to flooded areas to save people who had not fled Rita and found themselves stranded in waters up to nine feet deep.

In towns such as Abbeville, Pecan Island and Dulac, where French-speaking Cajuns settled and the Cajun culture is still strong, rescue workers battled high winds that continued to push water inland to pluck people from roofs or carry them from their homes.

"We need to pray to the good lord to switch the wind's direction," said Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan.

Rita's storm surge was so powerful that Couvillan said it reached his own ranch 35 miles inland.

Unlike New Orleans and Katrina, rescue workers arrived quickly after the storm and there was no repeat of the shocking scenes of crime and chaos that besieged the Big Easy.

In Texas, chaos preceded Rita in a different form as nearly 3 million people fled the coast to escape what was once a dangerous Category 5 storm with 175 mile per hour (282 kph) winds.

The mass evacuation caused 100-mile (160-km)-long traffic jams and depleted gasoline supplies in the Houston area. Cars that overheated or ran out of gas lined the state's highways.

A bus carrying elderly people from a Houston nursing home exploded, killing 23 of those on board.

On Saturday, Texas officials desperate to avoid new traffic jams as evacuees go home, urged people to delay their return. They announced a voluntary plan in which evacuees would come back over the next three days, depending on where they live.

"I can't say in strong enough terms to those who evacuated the coastal region that they should not begin their return for the time being," Gov. Rick Perry said.

He also encouraged oil companies to refuel gas stations to assure an adequate supply of gasoline.

Despite Perry's pleas, evacuees began flooding back to Houston on Saturday, causing backups on some highways.

Gasoline was still in such short supply that the few gas stations open had long lines of cars waiting to fill their tanks.

The center of Rita came ashore 200 miles west of New Orleans, but its storm surge caused new flooding in the city that was just drying out from Katrina.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to plug levees fractured by Katrina and now swamped again by Rita, but parts of New Orleans, now largely deserted, were again covered by up to 12 feet of water.

Still, Mayor Ray Nagin said he would move ahead with a plan to repopulate the least-damaged parts of the city by Katrina and Rita by allowing residents of the Algiers section back in as early as Monday.

"We want to bring New Orleans back," he said.

Weather forecasters said on Sunday Rita had diminished to a tropical depression with heavy rains and sustained winds of 20 mph (32 kph). It was located near Hot Springs, Arkansas and moving northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

 

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst and Michael Christie
in Baton Rouge, Andy Sullivan in New Orleans, Kenneth Li
in Beaumont and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin)

Rescue workers search for Rita survivors, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-25T164325Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Texas residents

ride out storm the hard way

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 9:09 AM ET
Reuters
By Mark Babineck

 

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (Reuters) - Hindsight was crystal clear for Trevor Cormier, who was among the handful of Port Arthur residents who ignored demands to evacuate and hunkered down through Hurricane Rita's violent landfall on Saturday.

"I scared myself to sleep," Cormier said as he tried to drive back home from a friend's house in town, impeded by waterlogged streets.

Rita took a damaging toll on this seaport in Texas' southeastern-most corner on the Gulf Coast. The storm crumbled buildings, stripped roofs, swamped streets and seemed to do at least some damage to virtually every structure in town.

Officials estimated more than 90 percent of the population, almost certainly spurred by the horrific images out of New Orleans of those left behind after Katrina struck, fled to higher ground ahead of Rita. As winds and rain continued to whip the city after daybreak, the streets were empty except for the hurricane's debris.

Cormier, 25, and a carload of friends were among the few souls visible.

"It was terrifying," he said of his experience at a friend's house. "The ceiling tiles all fell down, Sheetrock fell down, the windows broke. (Advertising) signs were inside the house."

A friend, Jacelyne Patrick, 22, said a Port Arthur street sign crashed through a window.

Even after daybreak, when the hurricane's destructive forces had passed north, Patrick said she knew some fellow citizens were still petrified.

 

CONSISTENT DAMAGE

"There are people that are so scared they're still in their closets," she said about seven hours after Rita's overnight landfall near the mouth of the Sabine River separating Texas and Louisiana.

Damage was consistent across the city. The already depressed downtown, rife with vacant storefronts, had several wall collapses and broken windows in forgotten buildings nobody bothered to protect against the elements.

The only electricity visible was the occasionally dangerous live power line. Natural gas leaks also were a concern.

Ashton Harrison, 38, rode out the storm in nearby Beaumont for part of the night before returning home to Port Arthur. He debated with himself over whether to try to make it to Houston, about 90 miles west, on a half tank of gasoline, knowing there was little fuel to be had in southeast Texas.

He also wondered about the construction site near his home, where items were left unsecured.

"There was a Port-A-Potty back there. I bet it's in Louisiana now," he said.

At the Holiday Inn on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard, named for the favorite son and former Dallas Cowboys coach, police and fire officials set up a makeshift headquarters where they could bunk down and be centrally located to respond to calls.

Lt. Pat Powell, who along with the city's other officials spent the night in an inland high school gymnasium before returning en masse on Saturday to secure the city, found his thoughts split between his duty and his personal life.

He assumed his family evacuated successfully, but he had not talked to them since Rita hit. He also assumes his home, in Bridge City on the Sabine River, could be a casualty.

"I know my house was right in the center (of Rita) ... but that's OK. My family's OK. I never worry about houses," he said, mustering a sense of humor. "I never liked that house that much anyhow, and I've got insurance."

Texas residents ride out storm the hard way, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-25T122912Z_01_KWA482308_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-PORTARTHUR.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Rita Weakens,

Rain and Flooding Still Pose Threat

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times

By SHAILA DEWAN
and JERE LONGMAN

 

BEAUMONT, Tex., Sept. 25 - Hurricane Rita slackened into a tropical depression and surged north today after it slammed into the Gulf Coast on Saturday. Rita's wind gusts of almost 150 miles per hour caused far less damage than officials had feared but 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.

Today, the National Weather Service said that there was still a severe weather warning and threat of flooding as the storm moved across the Mississippi Valley early this morning. Hurricane Rita has now evolved into a tropical depression, which is basically a cyclone with a maximum sustained wind speed of 38 miles an hour or less, and was located about 20 miles southeast of Hot Springs, Ark., early this morning.

But through Saturday, 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.

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 on Saturday with residents not to return home yet, saying it was still unsafe to do so because of rain and high winds.

"Even though the people right here in Beaumont and Port Arthur and this part of Orange County really got whacked, the rest of the state missed a bullet," Governor Perry said today, according to The Associated Press, before he took an aerial tour of the Beaumont area.

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 today. 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. He was scheduled to visit Baton Rouge, La., today.

James Gunter, the fire chief in Jasper, Tex., about 70 miles north of the coast, said in a interview with KHOU-TV Saturday 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.

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.

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.

Shaila Dewan reported from Beaumont, Tex., for this article, and Jere Longman from Houma, La. Reporting was contributed by Ralph Blumenthal in Houston, Sewell Chan in Baton Rouge, La., Thom Shanker in Washington, Timothy Williams in Beaumont, William Yardley in Lake Charles, La., and Christine Hauser and Joseph B. Treaster in New York.

    As Rita Weakens, Rain and Flooding Still Pose Threat, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Officials Tell Bush

That U.S. Needs Post-Disaster Plan

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:57 p.m. ET

 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Military officials told President Bush on Sunday that the U.S. needs a national plan to coordinate search and rescue efforts following natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Bush said he is interested in whether the Defense Department should take charge in massive national disasters.

''Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster -- of a certain size -- that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort?'' Bush asked. ''That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about.''

Bush got an update about the federal hurricane response from military leaders at Randolph Air Force Base. He heard from Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, joint military task force commander for Hurricane Rita, and Maj. Gen. John White, a task force member, who described search and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina as a ''train wreck.''

With Katrina, ''we knew the coordination piece was a problem,'' White said. He said better coordination is needed to prevent five helicopters, for example, from showing up to rescue the same individual. ''With Rita, we had the benefit of time. We may not have that time in an earthquake scenario or similar incident,'' White said.

''With a national plan, we'll have a quick jump-start and an opportunity to save more people,'' White said.

Speaking of the helicopter example, White said, ''That's the sort of simplistic thing we'd like to avoid.'' He added, ''We're not maximizing the use of forces to the best efficiency. Certainly that was a train wreck that we saw in New Orleans.''

Bush thanked White for his recommendations.

''This is precisely the kind of information I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how to do a better job,'' the president said.

Later, Bush had a private briefing in a FEMA joint field operations office that was set up in an empty department store building.

Bush's briefings came as residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts began clearing up debris and power crews worked to restore power to more than 1 million customers in four states.

Rita, which hit the Gulf Coast early Saturday, toppled trees, sparked fires and swamped Louisiana shoreline towns with a 15-foot storm surge that required daring boat and helicopter rescues of hundreds of people.

Still, the devastation was less severe than that caused by Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall on Aug. 29.

After the briefing, Bush attended a worship service at a chapel on the base.

Bush's appearance was clearly a surprise to the base congregation. The chaplain, Col. David Schroeder, said, ''We usually make new people stand up and introduce themselves.'' Everyone laughed at that, and then he announced the president. Bush stood along with the entire, clapping congregation.

Before returning to Washington, Bush was visiting Baton Rogue, La. The White House has not released details of his scheduled.

On Saturday, he made a stop in Austin, Texas, and at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado.

''Part of the reason I've come down here, and part of the reason I went to Northcom, was to better understand how the federal government can plan and surge equipment, to mitigate natural disasters,'' Bush said Sunday.

''It's precisely the kind of information that I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how we can do a better job in coordinating federal, state and local response.''

Under the existing relationship, a state's governor is chiefly responsible for disaster preparedness and response. Governors can request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If federal armed forces are brought in to help, they do so in support of FEMA, through Northern Command, set up as part of a military reorganization after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    Officials Tell Bush That U.S. Needs Post-Disaster Plan, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Bush-HK4.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple memorial Saturday

marked the place on Interstate 45 in Texas

where 24 evacuees died when a bus caught fire.

 

Photograph:

Misty Keasler for The New York Times

 

Bus Caught Fire After a Waiver Put It Back Into Service

NYT

25.9.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-bus.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Caught Fire

After a Waiver Put It Back Into Service

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times

By RICK LYMAN

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 25 - Federal investigators on Saturday were poring over the skeletal frame of the charred bus in which 24 residents of a living center for the elderly had died while trying to escape from Hurricane Rita. As they looked into the fire, fresh details were emerging about the vehicle and the company that operated it.

The bus, run by Global Limo of McAllen, Tex., burst into flames and exploded on the side of Interstate 45 early Friday morning. It was carrying 38 frail residents of the Brighton Gardens home in Bellaire, Tex., away from the expected path of Hurricane Rita to another facility in Dallas.

Mark Cross, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said Saturday morning that the bus's registration expired in July and that the vehicle had been taken out of service. But it was allowed back on the road because of a waiver signed last week by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas intended to get as many vehicles as possible involved in the hurricane evacuation and relief effort.

"I direct that all requirements concerning motor carrier registration, single-state registration, and international registration plan, and international fuel tax agreement be suspended for motor carriers traveling within or into Texas to assist with relief efforts," the governor wrote in a letter to Richard F. Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

The waiver - for all commercial vehicles, not just buses - also temporarily suspended limits on the number of hours those vehicles could be operated. The bus that exploded had been on the road for more than 14 hours, traveling from Bellaire, a few miles southwest of downtown Houston, to within 15 miles of its destination when the accident occurred at 6:30 a.m. near Wilmer, Tex.

"I ask all Texas law enforcement and other federal and state officials to honor this letter as a blanket permit," Mr. Perry wrote.

There were no indications of safety problems with the bus, only that its registration had expired, Mr. Cross said.

This morning, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Perry said the waiver of registration that he ordered for buses was not a waiver of safety standards. "That type of registration didn't have anything to do with the safety standards that are required," he said. "So if we had to all do it again, probably do the same thing because it's important to get people out of harm's way."

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that drivers for Global had been ordered to stop driving five times in the last 33 months, mostly for infractions regarding bus logs. In its most recent federal inspection, in 2004, the company was rated as "satisfactory," with no evidence of major safety problems in recent years.

Global filed for bankruptcy in February, although a lawyer for an owner said Friday that this had not affected the safety of the vehicles.

Global's offices are in a white, flat-topped structure with green trim, with a mobile home parked to one side, on a commercial strip separating McAllen from the southern suburb of Pharr. On Saturday afternoon, a man identifying himself as Mark Cooper, a San Antonio lawyer for Global and its president, James H. Maples, emerged from the business and declined to answer questions.

"We're not going to comment on the bus or anything else at this moment, until this investigation is further along," Mr. Cooper said.

Then, he offered a written statement, the second the company has released, in which Global expressed sorrow for the loss of life and promised to cooperate with investigators.

Johnny Partain, a former oil industry engineer who now runs a company that installs generators in McAllen, has been embroiled for years in a lawsuit with Mr. Maples over a 1997 investment he made in Global. Mr. Partain said he warned a judge more than a year ago that Global's buses were dangerous and ill-maintained.

"I told them this was going to happen," Mr. Partain said. "I've personally driven those buses. I know what condition they're in."

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said a dozen investigators arrived in Dallas on Friday and were beginning to sift through the wreckage on Saturday morning. It was just the beginning of what is expected to be a 12 to 18-month effort to discover the cause of the accident.

The explosion stopped traffic on I-45 during the evacuation of Houston and the Gulf Coast, creating a 20-mile traffic jam that worsened what had already been a chaotic endeavor.

The authorities have not yet released the names of either the dead or the bus driver, who was released from the hospital on Friday.

"We're still interviewing survivors," said Don Pertiz, a sheriff's spokesman. "We want to be as precise and painstaking as possible. It's going to take a while."

Brighton Gardens had dispatched two buses to the Dallas area on Thursday. The other one got through without incident. Ten of those who survived the crash were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital. By Saturday, seven had been released. Two of the others were in stable condition, and the third in good condition. A spokeswoman for the Baylor University Medical Center said four survivors were treated and released to a nursing home on Friday afternoon.

Eyewitnesses and at least one surviving passenger said that smoke began pouring from a wheel well of the bus shortly after the driver changed a tire. The driver pulled the smoke-filled vehicle over to the roadside, and was struggling to evacuate the passengers when the explosions occurred, presumably from oxygen canisters some occupants used.

There are no specific federal regulations for buses or for training bus drivers on how to transport oxygen canisters. On Friday, the federal Transportation Department issued new guidelines restricting the number of canisters in passenger compartments to one per passenger, and only when medically necessary.

 

Ginger Thompson contributed reporting from McAllen, Tex., for this article, and Laura Griffin from Dallas.

    Bus Caught Fire After a Waiver Put It Back Into Service, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-bus.html

 

 

 

 

Rita pummels Gulf Coast

 

Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:22 AM ET
Reuters
By Allan Dowd

 

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita left the U.S. Gulf Coast reeling on Saturday from two powerful storms in less than a month, with renewed flooding in New Orleans, widespread power outages and roads across hundreds of miles closed by debris, although damage was less than feared.

The storm slammed into lightly populated swamplands at the Texas and Louisiana border, sparing Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, but battering the oil city of Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, a gambling and chemicals center.

One storm-related death was reported in Belzoni, Mississippi, where police said a person died in a tornado.

Some refiners in the region's huge oil industry were hopeful they would find little harm from Rita, but damage to oil rigs offshore was less clear.

"The damage is not as severe as we expected it would be," said David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in Washington, who credited the evacuation of more than 2 million people with preventing storm deaths.

But he acknowledged problems that included traffic jams as long as 100 miles leading out of Houston. Two dozen elderly evacuees were killed on Friday when their bus burst into flames south of Dallas.

Game wardens and other emergency workers used boats, airboats and helicopters to try to rescue about 600 people who defied evacuation orders and stayed behind only to be trapped by floods in the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country, in Abbeville, Pecan Island and Lafitte. Several were plucked from the rooftops of their submerged homes.

High winds continued to push high water inland, making rescue attempts by boat or helicopter perilous, Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan said.

"We're risking lives to save their lives when they had an opportunity to leave," he said.

The city of Lake Charles suffered a prolonged pounding as the storm's center passed nearby. Lake water washed into the mostly deserted downtown and a huge container ship was torn from its moorings. Barges ricocheted off each other and slammed into an overhead bridge of an interstate highway.

The airport was badly damaged, officials said, and residents were asked to stay away for at least 48 hours.

Beaumont, Texas, where the U.S. oil age began with the Spindletop oil well in 1901, was also hard hit by Rita. Its warehouses and other light buildings all but disappeared, although a feared storm surge never occurred, officials said.

"This is an emotional and devastating experience," said Capt. Melissa Ownby of the Beaumont Police Department. "We've had hurricanes, but we've never had this much devastation."

Authorities in Texas pleaded with residents to delay going home and said gridlock was starting again as people began to return to the densely populated Houston area.

"Be patient, stay put," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. "There are still concerns over flooding, fallen debris." Texas authorities issued a plan to stagger the return of the evacuees over the next three days.

 

2 MILLION WITHOUT POWER

Rita cut power to more than 2 million people in Texas and Louisiana, already devastated by Hurricane Katrina on August 29.

The storm made landfall with 120-mph (193-kph) winds and punishing rains as a Category 3 hurricane. It weakened as it moved inland and by early afternoon fell to tropical storm status, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Pat Powell, of the Port Arthur Police, said he was sure his house directly in the storm's path in Sabine Pass, Texas, was destroyed. But he said: "My family's OK, so I'm not worried about the house. I never liked that house that much anyhow and I've got insurance."

Refiners were starting to tote up the damage to their refineries, many of which appeared at first glance to have survived relatively unscathed.

But it appeared significant damage was done to at least one refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, and at two refineries in Lake Charles, where 15-foot (4.6-meter) storm surges swept ashore.

Rita and Katrina knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of the U.S. refining capacity onshore.

Rita caused $2.5 billion to $6 billion in insured losses in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, three major catastrophe risk modeling companies said. That was far less that had been feared earlier in the week, when Rita was a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico with 175 mph (281 kph) winds.

But the twin blows of two harsh storms dealt a severe setback to hundreds of miles of coastal areas.

"Rita has compounded Louisiana's pain and we are hurting from the west side to the east side and significant parts in between," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. She urged federal relief efforts for the two storms be combined.

Late on Saturday, U.S. President George W. Bush issued disaster declarations for Texas and Louisiana, clearing the way for the federal government to provide financial assistance.

Several neighborhoods in New Orleans were flooded again, less than a month after levees breached during Katrina and submerged much of the city that remains largely deserted. Katrina killed more than 1,000 people, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Katrina was the wash cycle, Rita was the rinse cycle. I hope we get time to hang on the line and dry and not go into the spin cycle," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said at a news conference.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in Houston, Mark Babineck in Port Arthur, Ellen Wulfhorst and Michael Christie in Baton Rouge, Andy Sullivan in New Orleans, Kenneth Li in Beaumont and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin)

    Rita pummels Gulf Coast, R, 25.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-25T042204Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Refineries Escape Major Damage,

but Gas Prices May Still Rise

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By SIMON ROMERO and VIKAS BAJAJ

 

TEXAS CITY, Tex., Sept. 24 - Hurricane Rita caused some damage to oil refineries near the Texas-Louisiana border and raised the prospect of gasoline shortages and higher prices during the arduous process of restarting refineries all along the Gulf Coast. But it did not cause the widespread destruction of the energy infrastructure that some had feared.

On the edge of this workaday city of refineries and modest ranch houses near Galveston, a flare burned silently from a tower at the large B.P. refinery on Saturday afternoon, evidence that it was largely unscathed.

Up and down the energy corridor between Galveston and Houston, industry officials said refining locations had managed to avoid extensive damage from the hurricane, which made landfall to the east, near the Louisiana border.

Refineries sat waiting for workers to return to assess their conditions. In Texas City, there were no signs of wind damage or flooding at any refining installations.

Egrets gathered in the marshes in the shadow of refineries and petrochemical complexes owned by energy giants like Valero, B.P., Marathon-Ashland and Praxair. A toppled sign from a Phillips 66 gas station was the only indication that a hurricane's edge had passed through.

The situation was less sanguine in and near Port Arthur, Tex., and Lake Charles, La., near the Texas-Louisiana border, where officials said they expected refineries and industrial plants to be out of service longer because of heavy wind damage, power failures and scattered flooding.

Depending on how much of the nation's already stretched refining capacity is affected and for how long, that could cause shortages of gasoline and other fuels and push up retail prices again.

"It looks like we may have dodged some of the bullet in terms of the impact," said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. "It certainly is better than if it had hit some of the bigger refining centers."

Chuck Dunlap, who rode out the storm with 50 others at Pasadena Refining Systems, just outside Houston, said that at first glance, his plant and other facilities in the area appeared to have sustained limited damage. But even so, it will take a few days for his plant, which normally processes about 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, to return to full speed.

"We are actually walking through the plant and doing a more detailed inspection," said Mr. Dunlap, the refinery's president. "We won't be at full operations till midweek."

As the hurricane approached Texas on Friday, Galveston and Houston seemed directly in its path, and had the storm plowed into those cities, laden with petroleum tank farms, refineries and natural gas processing plants, insurance experts feared that losses could have run to $30 billion. But initial estimates put insured damage at $5 billion or less.

With hurricane winds extending 85 miles from the center of the storm, Galveston and Houston got heavy rain and strong gusts of more than 75 miles an hour, and they sustained scattered damage. Royal Dutch Shell and Valero Energy said their Houston-area plants would be restarted as workers returned and power was fully restored.

Companies shut down 16 refineries that make up about 23 percent of the nation's capacity in the days before Hurricane Rita struck. Less than half of the facilities that closed were in or near Port Arthur or Lake Charles.

Valero and Shell both said the wind knocked down cooling towers and power lines at their Port Arthur refineries, but they reported minimal damage from flooding. Valero said it would take two weeks to a month to complete repairs and restart the plant.

Hurricane-damage experts said the destruction may have been limited because as the storm churned inland, the refineries were on its west side, where wind speeds are lower, according to Dr. Jayanta Guin, vice president for research at AIR Worldwide, a Boston firm that tracks hurricanes and the damage they inflict.

Industry officials warned that the lack of obvious damage should not be read as assurance that things will quickly return to normal. Offshore oil platforms still need to be inspected, and restarting refineries, especially the kind of hulking operations that are common in the region, can take several days, even weeks.

During that period, gasoline supplies may start to run short in much of the eastern half of the country, which gets most of its fuel from the Gulf Coast via pipelines. The largest of these, owned by Colonial Pipeline, was operating at about half its usual volume on Saturday because it had lost power at pumping stations.

Retail gasoline prices rose to more than $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina. Regular unleaded gas sold for an average of $2.748 a gallon on Saturday, down from $2.755 on Friday, according to the AAA.

Simon Romero reported from Texas City, Tex., for this article, and Vikas Bajaj from New York. Joseph B. Treaster contributed reporting from New York.

    Refineries Escape Major Damage, but Gas Prices May Still Rise, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/25refine.html

 

 

 

 

 

Surging Water

Stirs Up Fears and Memories

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By WILLIAM YARDLEY

 

LAKE CHARLES, La., Sept. 24 - The water rose even after the rains thinned and the winds lightened. It pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico through coastal canals, dismissed the banks of the Calcasieu River in places and surged across Shell Beach Drive to the steps of the estates overlooking the refineries and casinos on Lake Charles.

Here near the Louisiana-Texas border, a region where historical high-water marks are recounted with hand gestures at the knee and the neck and with ominous swipes at the air above, Hurricane Rita left its own mark, and new mysteries.

What, who was lost beneath the water? Was it still rising, or was it finally falling?

"It's hard to tell," John Butterick, a planner with the Calcasieu Parish office of emergency preparedness, said at midday Saturday. "We don't know if it's just wind moving it around or accumulation."

By late afternoon it was still unclear. The water appeared to recede in some places but not others, and not before it had swamped neighborhoods, lifted dozens of boats and barges onto riverbanks and flooded the longest memories.

"Audrey didn't do that," said David French, a deputy with the Cameron Parish Sheriff's Office, who was stopped in his patrol truck on Highway 27, southwest of Lake Charles, where downed trees and rising water prevented him from checking on the handful of people who refused to evacuate the bayou hamlet of Hackberry.

Hurricane Audrey stormed ashore in 1957, killing at least 390 people in what the National Hurricane Center has long called the most destructive storm to hit southwestern Louisiana.

Like Hurricane Rita, it took aim at the Texas-Louisiana border, bringing winds as high as 105 miles an hour to Lake Charles, more than 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico in Calcasieu Parish. On Saturday, winds in Lake Charles reached at least 100 m.p.h., Mayor Randy Roach said.

This time, however, with the despair of Hurricane Katrina freshly etched, most people got out. Getting back in was another matter.

"Those are our homes down there," Deputy French said. "That's where we live, and we can't get back in."

A day earlier, Robert Noland, 54, who lives in a house on Shell Beach Drive overlooking Lake Charles, boasted that he did not fear the storm or the rising water, that he remembered Hurricane Audrey and that his house would stay dry. On Saturday his outlook was different.

"I've never seen it like this," he said.

Not far from Mr. Noland's boathouse, a man spent the night aboard his 18-foot sailboat moored in Lake Charles.

"He said he's fine," Mr. Noland said, after driving a small boat through the lake to check on the man Saturday morning.

But the water seemed to still be rising, edging over the road to Mr. Noland's driveway and pressuring the man's boat at its anchor.

"He just said to keep checking on him," Mr. Noland said.

Parts of some low-lying neighborhoods in South Lake Charles were flooded. Roofs were missing from homes and businesses. Power failures were widespread in the city, with utility poles and live oaks leveled across downtown and residential streets and traffic lights often lying in the street.

The Civic Center, a shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina until just days earlier, lost part of its roof, and water from the lake filled half its parking lot.

Green glass was blown out of the façade of the Hibernia bank building. Some mobile homes were destroyed. Aluminum sheeting flew past rattled horses that galloped endless laps in their pastures.

The Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River was closed to traffic late in the morning for inspections after a barge hit it.

Interstate 210, which loops Lake Charles on the south side, was open, despite reports that a tornado may have struck it.

It was unclear how many people had been trapped by high water in the coastal parishes bordering Texas.

Cameron Parish, geographically one of the largest in Louisiana, has a population of only about 9,000, and nearly everyone had evacuated by late Friday. And officials estimated that about 95 percent of the approximately 200,000 people in Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles, had evacuated.

In Calcasieu Parish, Mr. Butterick said he was aware of at least some people trapped on roofs in the town of Westlake. Water neared the first-floor apartment door of Lynn Cormicle on Prien Lake Road in Lake Charles, but then seemed to stabilize for a few hours.

"Is it going down?" he asked a stranger.

Fears were greater in Cameron Parish, a low-lying area of wetlands, fish camps and farms, where as many as a few dozen people were believed trapped by the water that blocked Highway 27 into Hackberry. State wildlife and fisheries officers arrived late in the day, cutting through trees and hauling johnboats and airboats.

Tugboat captains who rode out the storm on their boats apparently were safe. But several people worried about members of the Little family who had stayed to watch over about 500 beef cattle they had corralled to higher ground.

Butch Little and his brother, Ernie, both in their 60's, remembered what fields were dry after Hurricane Audrey and steered their herd there. The men had been unable to round up more than 200 cattle grazing farther south near the gulf.

"They may not be there tomorrow," Todd Little, Ernie Little's son, said as rain began to rake across his land on Friday afternoon.

After the storm, as night began to fall on Saturday, one man, waiting with several others as the wildlife officers took boats into the bayou, said he spoke to the Littles by cellphone at 1 a.m. on Saturday and that they were safe. A woman, Jennifer Buford, said a friend had spoken to Todd Little by cellphone at dawn, "and the water was up to their necks."

Another man from Hackberry, Mark Trahan, worried about Todd Little's younger brother, Tim, who had been herding cattle in Johnson Bayou, right on the Gulf, as the storm approached.

A call to Butch Little's cellphone was met with an automated message, "All circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later."

At nearly 8 p.m., as the water finally began to recede from the edge of the road, Deputy French appeared again on Highway 27. He had news of why rescue workers had not returned with the Littles or others who had decided not to evacuate. "The people there said, 'We've already made it. We want to go ahead and stay,' " he said.

    Surging Water Stirs Up Fears and Memories, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/25water.html




 


Hurricane Slams Into Gulf Coast;

Flooding Feared

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN and WILLIAM YARDLEY

 

BEAUMONT, Tex., Sept. 24 - 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 that its torrential rain and storm surges would cause widespread flooding across much of the region.

Despite property destruction expected to reach into the billions of dollars, preliminary reports indicated that Hurricane Rita was far less deadly than its predecessor, Hurricane Katrina. Officials said that was partly because of the evacuation of millions of Gulf Coast residents who heeded warnings, mindful of the flooding, death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina only a month ago.

The storm appeared to have spared major damage to Houston, where 2.5 million residents choked roadways for hours as they fled the approach of the storm. But Mayor Bill White warned that it was still unsafe to return because of rain and high winds.

Hurricane Rita made landfall about 3:40 a.m. Eastern time as a Category 3 storm, with winds up to 130 m.p.h., with its eye passing just east of Sabine Pass, Tex., about 32 miles southeast of Beaumont and near the Texas-Louisiana border. After hitting land, the storm weakened to a Category 2, which carries winds up to 110 m.p.h., but it still carried hurricane-force winds deep into the inland portion of East Texas.

President Bush, who was criticized for his administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, monitored the approach of Hurricane Rita from the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

James Gunter, the fire chief in Jasper, Tex., a small town 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."

Forecasters said that they expected the remnants of Hurricane Rita to stall over the region for three to five days, creating up to 25 inches of rain.

Forecasters also warned that the greatest damage could come from an unrelenting rainfall that could hang over the region for days and from flood tides up to 15 feet high that could inundate stretches of the Gulf Coast across Texas and Louisiana.

Rainfall will continue to affect mainly the eastern half of southeast Texas, with the heaviest rains pounding Liberty and Chambers Counties, where forecasters said flooding of low-lying areas was expected.

Early Saturday morning, 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 further west along Galveston Island, along 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 most impoverished neighborhoods that had previously 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, and overcame fragile levees in New Orleans. Nearly a million utility customers, including 575,000 in Houston and 250,000 along the coast, lost power. 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 a spur to the south of town, Interstate 210.

Parts of Beaumont were flooded and there were indications that water had been swept around Port Arthur's horseshoe-shape sea wall. 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 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 when she answered 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. on Saturday, wind rattled the roof and windows. "That's the sound of our lives changing forever," said Mike Aymond, a deputy with the Calcasieu Parish sheriff's office.

But, Deputy Aymond said, "It'd be a lot worse if New Orleans hadn't happened. People would have stayed."

In Jefferson County, 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, blue herons, farmland and fishing camps just south of Lake Charles, La., 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, downtown's tallest. As the first rescue workers left, the wind still drove horizontal shears of rain and shook cars.

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 travel, 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 Agenty teams whose job it is 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. "In the next 48 hours, we anticipate sending up to an additional dozen aircraft to support in relief efforts after the storm. Our initial missions will be to get FEMA assessment experts in to assess the areas hardest hit by the storm."

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. The military was also supplying communications systems for use by civilian emergency workers and federal disaster-relief agencies. Included in the communications systems are commercial telephone, Internet, teleconferencing, radio and satellite telephone systems.

Northern Command officials said that 800 marines based aboard the Iwo Jima were available for assistance, and that more than 300 military medical personnel were ready to open 10 field medical shelters throughout the hurricane zone. The military was also prepared to supply 500,000 meals per day to more than 15 locations, if required.

The military announced late Friday that it had established Joint Task Force Rita, to be overseen by Lt. Gen. Robert T. Clark, commander of the Fifth Army.

 

Shaila Dewan reported from Beaumont, Tex., for this article, and William Yardley from Lake Charles, La., Timothy Williams from Beaumont and Ralph Blumenthal from Houston.

Hurricane Slams Into Gulf Coast; Flooding Feared, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/25rita.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An above-ground tomb floated down a street Saturday in Delcambre, La.,

after the hurricane pushed water from Vermilion Bay into the city.

 

Photograph:

Lori Waselchuk for The New York Times

 

NYT

On line > Sunday 25th, September 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storms Stretch

Safety Net for Black Colleges

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By PETER APPLEBOME

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 24 - After Hurricane Katrina hit, there was six feet of water in the library at Xavier University. There is a beached boat on a campus made that much soggier by the wind and rain from Hurricane Rita. There is a waterlogged chapel, floors as slimy and slippery as river moss, with chairs and Bibles and plants strewn willy-nilly and a statue of the Virgin Mary perched on a pedestal overlooking it all.

Three miles away, there is a pile of rubble at Dillard University where three modular student dorms used to be before a post-hurricane fire burned them to the ground. There is a soggy morass of ruined books and backpacks and notebooks in the student bookstore, a ghostly vista of shrubs turned black by the polluted water that covered the campus for two weeks, and no students, just the chug, chug, chug of trucks pumping out water and drying out buildings.

When most people think of higher education in New Orleans, they are more likely to think of Tulane or perhaps Loyola than Xavier and Dillard, two small historically black universities scrambling to get back on their feet. But in the parable of race and inequality left behind by the floodwaters, one chapter still to be written will be the fate of places like Dillard and Xavier, which suffered far worse damage than their wealthier counterparts on higher ground and have tiny endowments, limited resources and students who are almost all dependent on financial aid.

Both say they will survive and eventually recover. But that could be a long, slow process, with Dillard researching the possibility of holding some sort of a spring semester away from its home campus and Xavier saying it needs $70 million to $90 million in aid to get it back where it was before the storm.

"I don't have an endowment I can take money from," said Dr. Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier. "If I can't recover the money we expected for the first semester to pay faculty and staff and pay our bills, we're standing here naked. We have nothing. And what we're looking for now is the help we need so we won't be severely crippled in our ability to come back."

Higher education, like everything else, took a wallop from the storm in the New Orleans area, where more than 75,000 students had to flee their colleges and universities. All had to shut down, including Tulane, the largest private employer in Orleans Parish. As it turned out, top officials there relocated to temporary office space in Houston, only to have to move again when Hurricane Rita threatened.

But few face more daunting hurdles than Dillard and Xavier, both small private universities, with almost 6,000 students between them.

The universities are very different places. Xavier's campus consists mostly of taller buildings near downtown. Dillard, built in the 1930's, is a low-rise assemblage of white Georgian revival buildings with stately columns in a sprawling glade of ancient live oaks near one of the canals. Dr. Francis has been Xavier's president for 38 years. Dillard's president, Dr. Marvalene Hughes, took over July 1.

Xavier, the nation's only historically black Catholic university, is a remarkably successful generator of black doctors, pharmacists and scientists; it has produced a quarter of the black pharmacists in the country and produces more future black doctors than any other undergraduate institution. Dillard has a more traditional liberal arts focus.

But they have at least two things in common. First, for all the sudden attention given to the plight of the black poor in New Orleans, they are a reminder that New Orleans has also been home to a rich African-American cultural tradition of writers, teachers and scholars. Even before the Civil War, New Orleans had the largest and most cultivated population of free, educated blacks in North America.

Second, when it comes to resources, very few historically black universities have much of a cushion. So while Tulane, for instance, is hoping to receive insurance reimbursement both for storm damage and for some of the revenue it lost when it had to shut down, neither Xavier nor Dillard could afford business interruption insurance. Tulane's endowment is about $745 million. Xavier and Dillard both have around $50 million, almost all of it restricted to designated purposes.

It will take months to make both campuses remotely habitable. Dillard, with virtually all its buildings damaged, wet and infested with mold, faces the tougher task.

Their first task is to find money to rebuild. Insurance will cover wind damage but not most of the damage from the flooding, which did the most harm. Their second is to come up with enough operating money to pay faculty and staff members, while they figure out what level they can hope to operate at as they try to plan for a second semester. Both know they will lose faculty members.

The United States Department of Education says it still plans to distribute $90 million in student aid to 31 institutions affected by the storm. That represents a portion of $227 million in storm aid to higher education.

But Gene D'Amour, Xavier's senior vice president for resource development, said that money alone will not go far.

"It's like you're dying of hunger and someone offers you a cup of coffee," he said.

Dr. Francis said Xavier is requesting aid from Congress that would amount to $70 million to $90 million for reconstruction, for retention of faculty members and for financial aid to students who now have even fewer resources than they did when they first applied.

Its chances of getting that much may be slim, but for now the universities and their allies at the United Negro College Fund are lobbying for more federal aid, hoping to raise money from alumni, private donors and foundations and trying to plan as well as they can for the next semester. Dillard is considering operating from a different site if its campus is not ready by January. Xavier is hoping to reopen Jan. 4 and is working on partnerships with Tulane and Loyola that would allow it to use classroom space there or enroll students in courses at those campuses.

And while broken campuses and a diminished city will keep some away, many students insist they want to return.

"My heart's broken," said Regina McCutcheon, a senior at Xavier who is president of the student body, "but every student I've talked to has expressed a desire to go back. We're all feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. There's no place like home."

With Hurricane Rita adding to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and Louisiana already being nudged off the front pages, some worry that, as with most other things, the rich institutions will come out of this much better than the poorer ones will. Given the social breakdown that followed the storm, people at Dillard and Xavier say it would be doubly tragic if they emerged battered and diminished from it.

"New Orleans has lost so much of its infrastructure; it can't afford to lose its educational infrastructure as well," said Michael Lomax, former president of Dillard and now president of the United Negro College Fund. "This is a case where the black colleges cannot be forgotten."

    Storms Stretch Safety Net for Black Colleges, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/25college.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Plans to Evacuate U.S. Cities,

Chance for Havoc

 

September 25, 2005
The New York Times
By JOHN M. BRODER

 

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 24 - The chaotic evacuations of New Orleans and Houston have prompted local officials across the country to take another look at plans for emptying their cities in response to a large-scale natural disaster or a terrorist attack. What they have found is not wholly reassuring.

From Los Angeles to Boston, from Seattle to Miami, plans to relocate, house and feed potentially hundreds of thousands of displaced people are embryonic at best and nonexistent at worst. As the chaotic exodus from Houston this week demonstrated, in many places highways would clog quickly, confusion would reign and police resources would soon be overtaxed. New Orleans offered a different and more deadly example of what could go wrong, as tens of thousands of people, many of them poor and lacking private transportation, could be left to fend for themselves in cities without basic services or law enforcement.

Most major American cities have made preparations for localized emergencies like fires, floods or large toxic spills that might involve the relocation of a few thousand or tens of thousands of people. Since Sept. 11, 2001, cities have received billions of dollars from the newly formed Department of Homeland Security to prepare for a major terrorist attack with bombs or unconventional weapons.

But few have prepared in detail for a doomsday possibility like Hurricane Katrina, the storm that engulfed New Orleans and left much of the city a wasteland. Nor have they prepared workable plans to evacuate millions of people with little or no notice, as the residents of the Gulf Coast of Texas learned to their dismay late this week.

"Obviously, if you have no notice, it makes it that much more chaotic and confusing," said Henry R. Renteria, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in California, the state's top disaster-planning official. Evacuating a large urban area is difficult in the best of circumstances, Mr. Renteria said, but California's geography and diverse population - many residents are newcomers, and more than 100 languages are spoken - make it doubly complicated here.

And no plan ever survives an encounter with reality, he said.

"I'm never satisfied with any plan we have in place," Mr. Renteria said. "They have to be constantly looked at, constantly re-evaluated and constantly revised in light of the lessons learned from those who have been through this experience."

Los Angeles, the nation's second-most-populous city, sits atop a spider web of earthquake faults, several of which could slip with devastating consequences, leveling large parts of the city and touching off widespread fires and explosions. But the city has no plan for moving and sheltering the large number of people who would be made homeless by such a disaster, officials concede.

"What happened in Houston is very significant," said Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. "What they've demonstrated is the difficulties in evacuating that number of people. We're a much larger area. If you'd ever have to evacuate that number of people here, there's no question it would be problematic."

Emergency response planners for the region acknowledge that no plans exist for moving hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions, of Southern Californians out of harm's way. No evacuation routes are marked, and no one has ever explored the possibility of reversing the flow of freeways to speed an evacuation - that is, if the freeways were even passable after a significant earthquake.

"We're going back to the drawing board," said Sandra S. Hutchens, chief of the office of homeland security at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the lead disaster-preparedness agency for the Los Angeles metropolis. "With an earthquake or a major terrorist attack, we'd obviously have no warning. We haven't looked at mass evacuation or temporary housing for hundreds of thousands of people."

San Francisco's evacuation plans depend in large part on the two main bridges that connect the city with Oakland to the east and Marin County to the north. Both are vulnerable to a major earthquake, as is the Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnel beneath the bay. The plans call for the use of fishing boats and ferries to get people across the bay if other routes are blocked, a stopgap solution at best.

Philadelphia is also dependent on bridges and elevated highways to get people out in an emergency, and the city has drawn up no detailed plans for mass evacuation since early in the cold war, officials said. Gov. Edward G. Rendell has ordered every city in Pennsylvania to prepare for large-scale evacuations, with particular emphasis on the large number of people in major cities who do not own cars.

New York, more than most American cities, has the advantage of a sprawling mass transportation system. Eight million people a day use the system, and officials count on it to be useful in an emergency as well. That could be vital, because city traffic, already a problem in an ordinary rush hour, would pose a significant challenge.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly says the city has two general evacuation plans, one for hurricanes and another for terrorist attacks. The plans include the opening of hundreds of shelters, mostly in schools. But officials acknowledge that despite the plans, many elements of an evacuation would have to be improvised.

Boston is further along than many large cities, having devised a plan in advance of last summer's Democratic National Convention for moving as many as a million people from the central city in the event of an attack or a major storm. But exercises revealed some flaws in the plan, known as Operation Exodus, including a lack of adequate public transportation and a shortage of temporary shelter away from the danger zone.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has asked that the plan be updated to reflect the lessons learned in Texas and Louisiana.

"We have an evacuation plan in place that we had during the Democratic National Convention," Mayor Menino said in a telephone interview. "As soon as we saw what happened with Katrina, we asked our homeland security director to look at the plan and determine how we can enhance the plan."

Washington is one of the few cities that have actually tried to exercise a mass evacuation plan. Last summer, after the Fourth of July fireworks that annually draw a half a million or more people to the National Mall, the city used a system it devised to change the timing on stoplights on major arteries leading out of downtown.

"The purpose of the drill was to test our system, to test the assumptions underneath it," said Edward D. Reiskin, Washington's deputy mayor for public safety. The test revealed some glitches, like confusion among drivers and pedestrians stuck at very long stoplights. Some traffic-control devices were also misplaced, Mr. Reiskin said. But the drill was useful in gathering data.

"Now we know that in X number of minutes, we can reasonably expect to move Y number of people," Mr. Reiskin said.

But the test was unrealistic in at least one respect, he added. The crowds leaving the Mall were confused, but not panicked. "It's not exactly comparable to an emergency evacuation," Mr. Reiskin said. "Human behavior, we're certainly seeing now, is certainly a significant factor."

Chicago officials were reluctant to discuss emergency evacuation plans in detail, citing security concerns. But Andrew Velasquez III, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said that officials had identified senior housing, nursing homes and homeless shelters across the city and had plans in place to transport their residents to safety in the case of an emergency. He also said the city had an automated telephone system capable of making 1,000 calls a second to alert citizens of an evacuation order.

But the public must be informed and cooperative, Mr. Velasquez said. "It requires both the participation of government as well as the community," he said.

South Florida has more experience than most regions with killer storms and large evacuations. Signs marking evacuation routes are posted along the coastline, and millions of Florida residents have had to pack up and flee hurricanes.

Carl Fowler, a spokesman for the Broward County Emergency Management Agency, said his county was better situated and better prepared for hurricanes than was New Orleans. Although the coastal county, just north of Miami, is flat, it is above sea level, unlike parts of New Orleans. And the county has a number of major east-west arteries that help coastal residents move quickly inland as a storm approaches.

"We have evacuation routes, and signs posted year round as to what those routes are," Mr. Fowler said. Officials direct traffic toward shelters within the county and away from the state's Interstate highways, to prevent the monumental and dangerous traffic jams that Texas had in advance of Hurricane Rita.

David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University, said the evacuations of New Orleans and Southeast Texas had revealed significant weaknesses in coordination between the local, state and federal authorities. He also said that Texas' experience showed poor communication between local officials and residents, tens of thousands of whom took to the already-jammed highways even though they were not under a mandatory evacuation order.

In Texas, officials acknowledged that they had perhaps overly alarmed residents, leading to an evacuation that proved larger than necessary. They are now concerned about managing the flow of more than two million people back to their homes.

"It doesn't make any sense to have a mass evacuation plan if you don't tell anybody about it ahead of time," Mr. Schulz said. "I do think that it's important that public officials make the public aware in a very forthright and fairly location-specific way what the evacuation strategy is, and I think if we've learned anything the last three weeks, we've certainly learned that."

In Plans to Evacuate U.S. Cities, Chance for Havoc, NYT, 25.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/national/nationalspecial/25evacuation.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rita downgraded to Category 1

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 12:04 PM ET
Reuters
By Erwin Seba

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita slammed into evacuated towns and oil-rich swamplands of the Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday, causing widespread damage and power outages and threatening heavy flooding.

The powerful storm crashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast with 120 mph (193 kph) winds and punishing rains, then weakened slightly as it moved inland.

By 11 a.m. EDT, Hurricane Rita was downgraded to a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It spared Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, a direct hit. But the oil city of Beaumont, Texas and many of the largest U.S. refiners were in Rita's path, and the extent of damage was not yet known.

Much of New Orleans was flooded again, less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, as water poured over levees.

Officials across the region said high winds had toppled trees, destroyed buildings and fanned numerous fires. A container ship broke loose, fallen trees trapped people in their homes by fallen trees and floodwaters again swept into devastated New Orleans.

Police chief Ricky Fox in Vinton, Louisiana, between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Beaumont, Texas, told KLPC television there was widespread damage.

"I never seen anything like it ... Most of the larger buildings, the roofs are gone from them," Fox said.

Beaumont, where the U.S. oil age began with the discovery of the Spindletop oil well in 1901, was one of the hardest hit. In Lake Charles, the storm knocked a huge container ship loose from its moorings in Lake Charles and the vessel threatened to strike an interstate highway bridge over the lake, news reports said.

About two million people were without electricity in Texas and Louisiana.

"It's unbelievable," Lake Charles Police Chief Tommy Davis told a Louisiana television station. "There's going to be a lot of destruction out there."

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the commander of relief operations in New Orleans, told CNN there was significant damage to the airport at Lake Charles, and ABC reported 8 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3 meters of floodwater in the city's southern section.

A fire engulfed three buildings in Galveston's historic downtown and another building collapsed in the same area as Rita raked the island city, which nevertheless escaped a direct hit.

Centerpoint Energy and another utility company, Entergy, said at least 900,000 customers were without power, meaning around 1.8 million people were in the dark and without air conditioning.

The storm's eye hit land in extreme southwestern Louisiana, a swampy, lightly populated area just east of Sabine Pass, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

When Rita was over the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week, it was a roaring Category 5 storm with 175 mph (281 kph) winds, but those dropped to 120 mph (193 kph) at landfall. That made it a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, and a slightly weaker storm at landfall than Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 in Louisiana and Mississippi three weeks ago.

Forecasters had predicted a 15- to 20-foot (4.5- to 6-meter) storm surge would spill over local levees in the low-lying region and that rains up to 25 inches were possible.

The refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas, better known as the hometown of late rock singer Janis Joplin, was expected to get severe flooding, officials said.

 

ON THE HEELS OF KATRINA

Rita was the second powerful hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast in less than a month, following Katrina.

Together, the two storms knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of the nation's refining capacity onshore.

Houston, the center of the U.S. oil industry, got gusty winds and intermittent rains. But it did not take the direct hit that officials feared when they ordered a mass evacuation of the city that turned into a chaotic, 100-mile traffic jam.

"It's too early to say Texas dodged the bullet -- Houston did -- but we haven't seen what kind of flooding there might be," said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Local officials urged all those who evacuated to take their time coming home to avoid creating a huge inbound traffic jam.

In Galveston's Poop Deck bar overlooking the Gulf, the mood was light as bar-goers drank and watched the roiling surf.

"Mother Nature must be a Yankee lady," said chef Samantha Gallion. "It's like she's angry at the southern coast. She's hit us all now. I'm joking in the face of disaster."

Most of the storm area was devoid of people after more than 2 million fled in the evacuation.

The traffic jams had clogged highways leading out of Houston, stranding thousands of motorists who ran out of gas as they inched along for hours.

The chaos turned fatal on Friday when a bus carrying residents of a Houston nursing home caught fire near Dallas, killing 24 people.

Even though Rita hit 200 miles to the west of New Orleans, the scarred city felt the effects when high tides from the storm spilled over the city's fractured levee system.

In scenes reminiscent of the days after Katrina struck on August 29, water from the city's industrial canal filled up streets in the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish where nearly all the homes are already ruined.

"There'll be some significant flooding. We've already got reports of six feet of water on highway underpasses," Army Corps of Engineers Col. Duane Gapiski told CNN.

(Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Louisiana, Matt Daily in Houston and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin)

    Rita downgraded to Category 1, R, 24.9.2005,
    http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=
    2005-09-24T160439Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rita damages

estimated at up to $5 bln

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005
11:41 AM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita caused an estimated $2.5 billion to $5 billion in insured losses in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, catastrophe risk modeler AIR Worldwide said on Saturday.

AIR said Rita losses will be much lower than those from Hurricane Katrina because this storm weakened significantly in the day or so before it struck land.

"The heavy commercial and industrial areas of Port Arthur and Beaumont - with their numerous refineries - were to the left of the storm's track, where wind speeds are lower, so we do not expect to see significant structural damage to the refineries," Jayanta Guin, vice president of research and modeling at AIR Worldwide, said in a statement.

AIR's estimate compares with a forecast of $9 billion to $18 billion in insured losses from EQECAT, another of the major catastrophe modeling companies. That outlook was issued mid-afternoon Friday when Rita was a somewhat more dangerous storm than it ended up being at landfall.

Rita slammed into evacuated towns and oil-rich swamplands of the Texas-Louisiana border early Saturday, causing widespread damage and power outages. The powerful storm hit with 120 mph (193 kph) winds and punishing rains, then weakened slightly as it moved inland.

It spared Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city, a direct hit. But the oil city of Beaumont, Texas, and many of the largest U.S. refiners were in Rita's path, and the extent of damage was not yet known.

Much of New Orleans was flooded again, less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, as water poured over levees.

(Additional reporting by Texas and Louisiana bureaus)

    Rita damages estimated at up to $5 bln, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T154113Z_01_EIC456339_RTRUKOT_0_TEXT0.xml&related=true

 

 

 

 

 

Early Damage Estimates for Rita

Much Lower Than for Katrina

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times

By JOSEPH B. TREASTER

 

Damage from Hurricane Rita as it swept across parts of Texas and Louisiana today was perhaps at least five times less severe than the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina as it battered New Orleans, the rest of eastern Louisiana and Mississippi earlier this year, according to initial estimates by insurance industry experts.

The initial estimates suggest damage of $5 billion or less from Hurricane Rita as it struck less heavily populated areas with less force than Hurricane Katrina and mainly bypassed Galveston and Houston, where damage of up to $30 billion had been feared. A consensus of industry experts has been developing, suggesting damage of about $35 billion from Hurricane Katrina, though one storm tracking firm has put the number as high as $60 billion.

AIR Worldwide, a hurricane tracking company in Boston, said its first computer-based calculations indicated losses from Hurricane Rita of from $2.5 billion to $5 billion. Robert P. Hartwig, the chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, estimated the damage from Hurricane Rita at perhaps $4 billion to $5 billion.

"Every passing hour seems to indicate that the storm is not as severe as had originally been anticipated," Mr. Hartwig said. He said his estimates might move lower as more information came in.

"My only concern is that there may be some offshore energy issues, damage to oil platforms, that we just don't know about," he said.

AIR Worldwide has been on the low side of estimates for Hurricane Katrina, with a high of $27 billion. But Mr. Hartwig said he expected the estimates for Hurricane Rita from the various tracking companies and economists to be in a closer range than they were for Hurricane Katrina. The reason, he said, was that in the case of Hurricane Katrina, one firm, Risk Management Solutions in California, includes estimates of $15 billion to $25 billion for commercial flood damage in and around New Orleans. Since no previous hurricanes had produced the massive damage from hurricane-drive storm surges, none of the companies had included estimates of flood damage in their computer programs. Residential flooding is not covered by standard insurance policies, but Risk Management Solutions, widely known as RMS, said many of the businesses in New Orleans had bought commercial coverage.

Mr. Hartwig said there did not appear to be any flooding in Houston, which caught the edge of Hurricane Rita's winds, nor in the much smaller cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Tex., which were directly in the path of Hurricane Rita.

As a result, Mr. Hartwig, there is "going to be a lot less disparity" in the estimates "this time," adding, "there is going to be a tighter range of numbers."

Mr. Hartwig said that AIR Worldwide and other companies that track hurricanes and the damage they wreak, have structural information and values for each house and business in every ZIP code in the country in their computers and add in wind speed, rain density and other details when a storm strikes. But he said they do not include data on offshore oil rigs in their computers partly because the rigs move from time to time and also because the oil companies self insure much of the value of their equipment.

    Early Damage Estimates for Rita Much Lower Than for Katrina, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/25cnd-damage.html

 

 

 

 

 

Texas plans

staggered return for Houston evacuees

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 6:58 PM ET
Reuters
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

 

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas' governor on Saturday urged the nearly 3 million Texans who fled Hurricane Rita not to head home yet as the state sought to stagger their return to avoid the traffic chaos that marked the evacuation.

"Please stay where you are," said Gov. Rick Perry. "Be patient, stay put."

State officials said gridlock was starting again as people began to return to the densely populated Houston area, the fourth most-populated city in the United States.

"It appears that Houston and Galveston were spared the worst, but I want to re-emphasize to Texans in that area to remain in their homes, to remain in their places of safety," Perry told reporters.

State officials said they needed more time to replenish fuel supplies and restock food at grocery stores in the area.

They announced a plan to stagger the return of the evacuees over three days starting on Sunday, depending on the location of their homes. The state was providing evacuees with full details of the plan on the governor's Web site at http://www.governor.state.tx.us/.

"If you have gridlock, we can't get the fuel back in," said Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw. "Even 1 million people will cause congestion."

When asked how Texas would enforce the return plan, McCraw said, "We're not going to pull people over and put handcuffs on them for not complying but quite frankly, Texans get it."

The highways leading out of Houston became clogged with 100-mile (160-km) traffic jams on Thursday and Friday when initial projections of the powerful storm's path forced an evacuation from Houston and elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico.

Traffic came to a halt as major roadways became parking lots and motorists ran out of gasoline, cars overheated and one bus caught fire, killing 24 elderly evacuees.

During the evacuation, the Texas Department of Transportation was criticized for being slow to open both inbound and outbound routes to speed the departure of more than 2.8 million people from the Houston and coastal areas.

With search-and-rescue crews coming to and from the area, Perry said it seemed unlikely state officials could turn the major roads leading to Houston into one-way traffic.

U.S. House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay, who represents a Houston-area district, said it was not in evacuees' best interests to return immediately despite the natural urge to go back and check damage to their homes.

"The fact is that there is no gasoline in Houston at all," said DeLay, who drove from the city earlier in the day. "I know. I looked."

Texas plans staggered return for Houston evacuees, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T225752Z_01_DIT461709_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-RETURN.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rita crashes into Gulf Coast

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:11 AM ET
Reuters
By Erwin Seba

 

GALVESTON, Texas, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita slammed into evacuated towns and oil-rich swamplands of the Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday, causing widespread damage and power outages and threatening heavy flooding.

The powerful storm crashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast with 120 mph (193 kph) winds and punishing rains, then weakened slightly as it moved inland.

It spared Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, a direct hit. But the oil city of Beaumont, Texas and many of the largest U.S. refiners were in Rita's path, and the extent of damage was not yet known.

Much of New Orleans was flooded again, less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, as water poured over levees.

Officials across the region said high winds had toppled trees, destroyed buildings and fanned numerous fires. A container ship broke loose, fallen trees trapped people in their homes by fallen trees and floodwaters again swept into devastated New Orleans.

Police chief Ricky Fox in Vinton, Louisiana, between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Beaumont, Texas, told KLPC television there was widespread damage.

"I never seen anything like it ... Most of the larger buildings, the roofs are gone from them," Fox said.

Beaumont, where the U.S. oil age began with the discovery of the Spindletop oil well in 1901, was one of the hardest hit. In Lake Charles, the storm knocked a huge container ship loose from its moorings in Lake Charles and the vessel threatened to strike an interstate highway bridge over the lake, news reports said.

About two million people were without electricity in Texas and Louisiana.

"It's unbelievable," Lake Charles Police Chief Tommy Davis told a Louisiana television station. "There's going to be a lot of destruction out there."

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the commander of relief operations in New Orleans, told CNN there was significant damage to the airport at Lake Charles, and ABC reported 8 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3 meters of floodwater in the city's southern section.

A fire engulfed three buildings in Galveston's historic downtown and another building collapsed in the same area as Rita raked the island city, which nevertheless escaped a direct hit.

Centerpoint Energy and another utility company, Entergy, said at least 900,000 customers were without power, meaning around 1.8 million people were in the dark and without air conditioning.

The storm's eye hit land in extreme southwestern Louisiana, a swampy, lightly populated area just east of Sabine Pass, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

When Rita was over the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week, it was a roaring Category 5 storm with 175 mph (281 kph) winds, but those dropped to 120 mph (193 kph) at landfall. That made it a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, and a slightly weaker storm at landfall than Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 in Louisiana and Mississippi three weeks ago.

By 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the storm was midway between Jasper and Beaumont in Texas and its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 100 mph (160 kph), making it a Category 2 storm, the hurricane center said.

Forecasters had predicted a 15- to 20-foot (4.5- to 6-meter) storm surge would spill over local levees in the low-lying region and that rains up to 25 inches were possible.

The refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas, better known as the hometown of late rock singer Janis Joplin, was expected to get severe flooding, officials said.

 

ON THE HEELS OF KATRINA

Rita was the second powerful hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast in less than a month, following Katrina.

Together, the two storms knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of the nation's refining capacity onshore.

Houston, the center of the U.S. oil industry, got gusty winds and intermittent rains. But it did not take the direct hit that officials feared when they ordered a mass evacuation of the city that turned into a chaotic, 100-mile traffic jam.

"It's too early to say Texas dodged the bullet -- Houston did -- but we haven't seen what kind of flooding there might be," said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Local officials urged all those who evacuated to take their time coming home to avoid creating a huge inbound traffic jam.

In Galveston's Poop Deck bar overlooking the Gulf, the mood was light as bar-goers drank and watched the roiling surf.

"Mother Nature must be a Yankee lady," said chef Samantha Gallion. "It's like she's angry at the southern coast. She's hit us all now. I'm joking in the face of disaster."

Most of the storm area was devoid of people after more than 2 million fled in the evacuation.

The traffic jams had clogged highways leading out of Houston, stranding thousands of motorists who ran out of gas as they inched along for hours.

The chaos turned fatal on Friday when a bus carrying residents of a Houston nursing home caught fire near Dallas, killing 24 people.

Even though Rita hit 200 miles to the west of New Orleans, the scarred city felt the effects when high tides from the storm spilled over the city's fractured levee system.

In scenes reminiscent of the days after Katrina struck on August 29, water from the city's industrial canal filled up streets in the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish where nearly all the homes are already ruined.

"There'll be some significant flooding. We've already got reports of six feet of water on highway underpasses," Army Corps of Engineers Col. Duane Gapiski told CNN:

(Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Louisiana, Matt Daily in Houston and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Austin)

    Rita crashes into Gulf Coast, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T151118Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Battered New Orleans

copes with rain, floods again

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:14 AM ET
Reuters
By Andy Sullivan

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Surging waters from Hurricane Rita poured into the streets of New Orleans on Saturday and bands of rain posed an additional threat to the devastated, but largely empty, city.

Officials expected few deaths in the neighborhoods that flooded on Friday because they had been largely deserted before storm waters topped levees along the Industrial Canal in at least four places.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it planned to use a helicopter to drop sandbags on a 30-foot-wide (9-meter) waterfall on the east side of the city's Industrial Canal and bring in dump trucks to shore up topped sections on the west side of the canal, which abuts several poor but historic neighborhoods.

High winds and flooding had kept the helicopters and dump trucks at bay on Friday.

But the flooding meant a new setback for a city that had barely begun to recover from Hurricane Katrina, which stranded thousands of residents in chaotic conditions nearly four weeks ago.

As Rita's 120 mph (193 kph) winds slammed into the Texas-Louisiana border, the National Weather Service said New Orleans could still face torrential rains and tides about five feet above normal.

Heavy rain could lead to more flooding across the city as storm drains are still choked with debris from Katrina.

Army Corps Col. Duane Gapinsky said he wasn't sure how much water was in the city.

"There'll be some significant flooding. We've already got reports of six feet of water on highway underpasses," Gapinski said on CNN.

The corps should be able to pump the water out much quicker than it was able to do after Katrina, he said.

Corps officials had sealed off two canals to prevent a repeat of the flooding in neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain. Those barriers held back the surging lake on Friday while one road along the shoreline was under water.

The corps had used gravel to patch levee sections that had been damaged by Katrina.

Water leached steadily under one of those repaired sections along the London Avenue Canal on Friday, a condition a corps engineer said would continue until clay or other more watertight materials could be brought in.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington)

    Battered New Orleans copes with rain, floods again, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T151226Z_01_DIT452401_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-NEWORLEANS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Bush says feds prepared for Rita

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:33 AM ET
Reuters
By Adam Entous

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday called the federal government well prepared and organized to deal with Hurricane Rita as he sought to reassure Americans and repair his image tarnished by the slow and chaotic response to Katrina.

"It comforts me knowing that our federal government is well organized and well prepared to deal with Rita," said Bush, who kept watch on the powerful storm from a military base in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, more than 1,000 miles from the Rita-battered Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.

On plasma screens in a conference room at the base, Bush received a briefing on Rita's path and impact, and on how troops were being used to aid in the recovery effort.

Eager to show the government was better prepared for Rita than it was for Katrina, Bush said he came to the U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs to "see first hand" the military's disaster planning and assess the level of coordination.

Unlike the response to Katrina, which he acknowledged had serious problems, Bush said all levels of government this time around were "closely coordinating" their efforts.

At his Colorado briefing, Navy Capt. Brad Johanson, director of the Joint Operations Center of U.S. Northern Command, told Bush that "all the forces are postured for rapid response. I think we're in good shape."

Johanson said 17,000 active-duty troops and 36,700 National Guard ground forces were already there, and that additional active duty troops were positioned to move in.

Bush said the top priority now was "to pull people out of harm's way," and he said that troops were on the ground "beginning to analyze the situation and prepare the necessary response to stabilize the situation."

Bush spoke before flying to Austin and San Antonio, Texas, where he will get a closer look at state emergency response efforts. He had abruptly canceled a trip to Texas, his home state, on Friday to avoid interfering with relief operations.

 

DANGER OF FLOODING

"It's very important for the citizens who are headed to east Texas to understand that even though the storm has passed the coastline, the situation is still dangerous because of potential flooding," Bush said.

"It's important that they listen to local authorities about whether or not it is safe to return back to their homes. It's going to take a while for the authorities on the ground to fully understand the impact," he added.

The Northern Command was created in 2002 to head the military's land, sea and air defense of the United States. Bush has proposed that the military have broader responsibility to respond to domestic crises like hurricanes.

Bush has seen his approval ratings plunge after the slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which hit August 29 and devastated New Orleans, killed more 1,000 people and displaced 1 million.

He has already made five visits to the region hit hard by Katrina. When Rita started bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Bush scrambled to assure Americans that he was on top of the situation this time.

"We are marshaling resources of the federal government to save lives and property, and bring comfort to those who have evacuated because of this storm," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"Over the past week, federal, state and local governments have been closely coordinating their effort for Hurricane Rita," he added.

Days after Katrina struck, Bush acknowledged "serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government" and said he took personal responsibility for any failures at the federal level.

The White House was keeping Bush's schedule largely free in coming days with further travel to the disaster zone possible.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)

    Bush says feds prepared for Rita, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2005-09-24T153317Z_01_DIT404997_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-BUSH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Lashes

Texas and Louisiana Coastlines

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN,
SIMON ROMERO and JERE LONGMAN

 

BEAUMONT, Tex., Sept. 24 - Hurricane Rita, a spinning mothership of gunmetal gray with an eye 20 miles wide, met the Gulf Coast early this morning with wind gusts of almost 150 miles an hour and 15- to 20-foot waves, causing the worst damage in southwestern Louisiana and east Texas but also sparking fires in Galveston, leaving half a million Houstonians without power, and overcoming the fragile levees of New Orleans.

In Lake Charles, La., early unconfirmed reports told of heavy damage to the glass façade of the Hibernia bank tower downtown, potential damage to casino barges on Lake Charles and a fallen overpass on either Interstate 10 or a spur to the south of town, Interstate 210. In Jefferson County, Tex., parts of Beaumont were flooded and there were some indications that water had been swept around Port Arthur's horseshoe-shaped sea wall.

Glass blew out of the J.P. Morgan/Chase Tower in downtown Houston, forcing police to cordon off the area, and along the coast, there were 250,000 customers without power, according to an Entergy official.

In coastal counties and parishes, crews of workers rose in the dark and prepared to go out at first light to assess the damage, while inland counties like Jasper County, Tex., 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 by telephone.

In Houston this morning, officials said at a news conference that they had begun to assess the storm damage. Mayor Bill White said no deaths or injuries had been reported, but 575,000 people were without power. He urged residents who had fled the city not to return, because a mass exodus back into the city would create a repeat of the hundred-mile-long traffic jams and vehicle breakdowns on Friday.

Mayor White said city officials were working on a system for residents to return, including making sure that gasoline was available. Judge Robert Eckels, the top elected official in Harris County which takes in Houston, said in an interview that 15,000 people were in Red Cross shelters.

Rita, which was downgraded from a Category 4 to Category 3 hurricane soon after hitting land, was expected to continue northwest just inside the Texas border before arcing eastward, dumping 25 inches of rain as it traveled, according to the National Hurricane Center. But despite destruction of property projected to reach into the billions, preliminary reports indicated that Rita carried far less venom than its predecessor, Katrina, in part because Katrina prompted people to take evacuation orders far more seriously than usual.

In Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont and Port Arthur, Carl Griffith, the county judge, estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of the county's 250,000 residents had stayed behind, as compared to 40 percent in previous evacuations. In Cameron Parish, a low-lying area of bayous, blue herons, farmland and fishing camps just south of Lake Charles, La., 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.

Officials from Cameron and Calcasieu huddled in the Calcasieu Parish jail, which had been evacuated of all 1,149 inmates before the storm. About 3 a.m. on Saturday, wind rattled the roof and windows. "That's the sound of our lives changing forever," said Mike Aymond, a deputy with the Calcasieu Parish sheriff's office. But, he added: "It'd be a lot worse if New Orleans hadn't happened. People would have stayed."

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. As the first rescue workers left, the wind still drove horizontal shears of rain and shook cars. Several hundred of the county's vehicles had been gassed-up and parked on two huge military transport ships, the Cape Vincent and the Cape Victory, that officials said could withstand a Category 5 storm, the strongest level.

Early this morning, the few people who remained in Beaumont, which has a population of 113,000, braced for an expected storm surge that could bring as much as 20 feet of water. At Christus-St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Jessica Clark, 51, and her daughter, Salina Foreman, 16, had spent a sleepless night in a room crowded with other relatives of the hospital's staff.

They had reluctantly abandoned their mobile home a few hours before the hurricane hit, leaving Ms. Clark's husband, Donnie, 53, and her son, Sonny, 19 behind. They refused to leave, she said. "We've been knowing it's coming for three days, we just didn't know what we were going to do," Ms. Clark said. "I'm all tense in my stomach with worry about my son and husband."

The hospital had moved its emergency room to the second floor because much of the first floor has been flooded. Staff had brought their families into the hospital Friday night to ride out the storm with about 150 members of Beaumont's 250-member police force, who said they would return to their beats once the winds died down to below 50 m.p.h. This morning, the water on the street outside the hospital was four feet deep.

As of 7:45 a.m. this morning, Rita's center was located 25 miles northwest of the city of Orange, near Buna, Tex., in southern Jasper County. The hurricane was moving northwest at 11 m.p.h., and its core was expected to move inland near the cities of Lufkin and Nacogdoches this afternoon.

Residents who had not evacuated were warned by the National Hurricane Center to remain in place until Rita moves farther inland, because travel, especially in cars, will be dangerous. In most evacuated areas, officials said it was not safe to return, except in Friendswood, Tex., a suburb of Houston.

Forecasters warned that the greatest damage could come from an unrelenting rainfall that could hang over the region for days and from flood tides of up to 15 feet high that could inundate stretches of the Gulf Coast across Texas and Louisiana. Rainfall will continue to affect mainly the eastern half of southeast Texas, with the heaviest rains pounding Liberty and Chambers counties, where flooding of low-lying areas was expected.

Early this morning, 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 further west along Galveston Island, along the north facing bay shores, was expected to subside by midday.

Rita blew through the region on Friday with sustained winds of 85 m.p.h., with gusts topping 100 m.p.h. Officials at the National Hurricane Center said it officially made landfall about 3:40 a.m. Eastern time with the storm's eye hitting just east of Sabine Pass, Tex., about 32 miles southeast of Beaumont. As the eye of the storm came ashore, the winds blew out windows at the hurricane command center here, ripped up trees and brought down power lines, leaving at least 250,000 customers without power.

As it approached, the storm had prompted a mass evacuation in Texas, breached levees in New Orleans and sparked fires in Galveston. The storm is already blamed for the deaths of 24 elderly passengers who died early Friday in a bus fire accident near Dallas as they were evacuated from an assisted living center.

Forecasters warned this morning that the greatest damage could come from an unrelenting rainfall that could hang over the region for days and from flood tides of up to 15 feet high that could inundate stretches of the Gulf Coast across Texas and Louisiana. Rainfall will continue to affect mainly the eastern half of southeast Texas today, with the heaviest rains pounding Liberty and Chambers Counties, where flooding was expected.

People living in low-lying areas near damaged levees, or in unsecured mobile homes, trailers, tents and homes weakened by recent hurricanes, were warned by forecaster to move to higher elevation further inland. Many parishes in southeast Louisiana had evacuation orders for low-lying coastal areas.Early this morning, 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. The flooding further west along Galveston Island, along the north facing bay shores, was expected to subside by midday.

In Beaumont, Lt. Jay Cross of the Beaumont Police Department said that despite widespread flooding, the city was in relatively good shape to handle the storm because there has been no rain in town for one month, so the city's system of drainage channels were empty before the hurricane hit. He said that the city had prepared its officers to deploy on dump trucks once the storm passed to perform rescues and secure stores, if necessary.

But residents of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods, were not so lucky. Earlier on Friday, a storm surge of seven feet pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain through the Industrial Canal and over a repaired levee into the area, which had been devastated nearly a month earlier by Hurricane Katrina and submerged under as much as 20 feet of water. The damage in New Orleans heightened fears over Hurricane Rita, which forced a chaotic exodus of more than two million residents from the Gulf Coast this week.

For a while, as Rita churned across the Gulf of Mexico, it appeared that the storm would make a direct hit on Galveston. But the city was spared. Instead, an area that includes Beaumont and Port Arthur, two cities with large oil and chemical complexes, bore the brunt of the storm.

The death toll began hours before Rita reached land. A bus carrying 38 nursing home residents and six employees from the Houston area caught fire and exploded on Friday morning on a highway just south of Dallas, killing at least 24 passengers in the bus, said Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

The storm also prompted preparations far from the region. Georgia announced that it would close all public schools on Monday and Tuesday to conserve fuel and to help avoid the lines for gasoline that grew after Hurricane Katrina.

Energy markets, frantic with the possibility that Hurricane Rita might wreak havoc on refineries and petrochemical plants, were relieved somewhat at the close of trading on Friday when it appeared that the storm might veer from the largest complexes along the Gulf Coast. Oil prices fell $2.31 to $64.19 a barrel.

In Washington, where the Bush administration had been criticized for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, the president visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday. But he canceled a planned trip to Texas to avoid interfering with emergency preparations. He monitored the storm from the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"We're now facing another big storm," Mr. Bush said while at FEMA headquarters on Friday. "Our job is to prepare for and assist state and local people to save lives and help these people get back on their feet."

Federal officials declared a public health emergency for Texas and Louisiana. By evening, it had become clear that the cities along the border of Texas and Louisiana were in the storm's direct path. Entire communities were evacuated, and residents found refuge in shelters.

Port Arthur, normally a town of 60,000 protected by a seawall built to sustain a 16-foot storm surge, was vacant but for a few who refused to leave. Lake Charles, La., a city of about 72,000 just east of the Texas line, was also effectively empty, from the casino boats floating at the docks downtown to the rooms at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, which evacuated 132 patients on Friday, most on planes departing from the former Chennault Air Force Base.

And in San Augustine Park, 90 miles north of Beaumont, hundreds of people from southeast Texas set up camp in recreational vehicles and tents in the densely forested park run by the Army Corps of Engineers despite warnings of tornadoes, falling trees and rising lake waters. "There aren't any hotels, and we couldn't get gas to go any farther north," said one camper, Dennis Cargill of Orangefield.

In New Orleans, water also topped a levee on the other side of the Industrial Canal, inundating the Upper Ninth Ward, an industrial and residential area where homes were already marked with the stains of Hurricane Katrina. But officials said no additional loss of life or property was expected in these areas, previously pumped dry, that had been abandoned since the earlier storm. "This is very dramatic, but I don't consider it an emergency situation," said Stephen Browning, a programs director for the Corps of Engineers, as he inspected the breeches from atop a nearby bridge.

Still, the repeat flooding was disheartening for evacuated residents and for some local and state officials, dramatically pointing to the need to shore up the city's levee system in the rebuilding process.

"We have to think about building a safe New Orleans," Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said at a news conference in Baton Rouge. "Our plans include building stronger and higher levees to protect all of the city's neighborhoods."

By noon Friday, water had nearly reached the window level of some homes in the Lower Ninth Ward as far as three blocks from the topped levee between Claiborne and Florida Avenues.

Early gusts from Hurricane Rita brought winds of 25 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. to New Orleans through Friday afternoon. Rain fell intermittently. Sometimes it drizzled; other times it blew sideways in stinging blasts.

The Army Corps of Engineers said that levee repairs at the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal were holding and were expected to provide protection against storm surges as high as 10 to 12 feet. Metal pilings, rocks and sandbags were used to temporarily seal breaches made by Hurricane Katrina.

But, some seepage was expected, the corps said, and in the Gentilly and Mirabeau Gardens sections along the London Avenue Canal, water could be seen rising to the tops of tires of cars on some streets. Officials in St. Bernard Parish said it might take two weeks to pump out all the new water.

In Texas, fuel shortages and the closing of airports in Houston added to problems for residents trying to flee from the storm. The Texas National Guard sent 5,000 trucks with gasoline to supply stranded vehicles along the highways leading out of Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and Galveston.

Coast Guard helicopters also transported fuel to 11 locations of the Texas Department of Transportation to assist in refueling the gasoline trucks. In Houston, commercial flights from the city's two main airports ceased operations at noon on Friday, with stranded passengers told to seek refuge in shelters around the city.

As the skies darkened over Houston Friday afternoon, the city grew eerily still, with the normally congested streets and highways empty of traffic. Although the hurricane looked like it would spare the city a direct hit, Mayor White warned residents against going close to windows to observe the hurricane because the windows could blow out. "There'll be plenty of time to watch on TV rather than get close to the window," Mr. White said.

In the face of recriminations over the massive traffic tie-ups that clogged escape routes for hundreds of miles into Friday, the mayor said he took pride in the effort that had spirited about 2.5 million people out of harm's way.

"I hate traffic more than anybody I've ever met," Mr. White said, but he defended the turmoil as worthwhile in the end. The ghostly streets were a welcome sight on Friday, he said, "that is exactly what we wanted to see at this time."

By early evening police officers were making their last rounds and looking for any signs of looting. This morning, Mayor White said at a press briefing that Houston police arrested 16 people last night. Eight of the arrests were from the same incident; four juveniles, three women and one man were arrested at a Target store. Three people were arrested at a business on the city's southwest side, and one person was caught stealing beer from a convenience store.

Mr. White said that there had been 28 burglaries overnight, adding, "the chances for getting caught are extremely high."

Throughout Friday, coastal Texas had also frantically tried to ready itself for the storm. In Galveston, with the city emptied of most residents, officials moved emergency response operations to the conference center built atop a bunker that was once part of an old coastal defense installation, Fort Crockett. The conference center, part of the San Luis Resort complex, was thought to be the best location in Galveston to ride out the storm, said Mr. LeBlanc, the city manager.

"I'm an engineer myself and I have confidence this is the sturdiest, safest place to be," Mr. LeBlanc said in an interview.

About 150 police officers, 60 firefighters, 25 public works officials and 25 city administration officials began filing into the conference center early Friday evening as winds began to lash the city. With dozens of residents still in Galveston despite a mandatory evacuation, Mayor Thomas said the city had set up a refuge for about 100 residents at the Alamo Elementary School. "There are no doctors, no nurses, no triage," Ms. Thomas said. "It's just a refuge, and I would like to make that clear."

Less than a dozen people had shown up at the refuge by late Friday afternoon. Sitting on a cot as he cried, Miguel Rincon said he had terminal colon rectal cancer and less than two years to live. He came to the school with his sister, Angelina Rincon, 63, and a brother, Raul Rincon, 73, who recently suffered from heat stroke. "I'd rather be walking on the beach, anything instead of just possibly dying in the storm," said Miguel Rincon, 60, a retired road maintenance worker. "I don't want to die."

Mr. Rincon said his roommate took him and his siblings to the school after they heard about the refuge center on television. "This was our last resort," Mr. Rincon said. "We couldn't get off the island. The only car we had didn't have air conditioning. We didn't even have enough gas to get out of here."

In Louisiana, Governor Blanco said in Baton Rouge that at least 90 percent of residents had complied with areas under a mandatory evacuation order, and 98 percent in Cameron Parish, in the southwestern corner of the state.

"Rita remains a very dangerous storm; her winds are strong; the storm surge will be high," Mrs. Blanco said. "We've already seen what the edges of this storm are doing to New Orleans. Rita is driving waters over or through one of the levees damaged by Katrina."

Shaila Dewan reported from Beaumont, Tex., for this article, Simon Romero from Galveston, Tex.,and Jere Longman from New Orleans. Reporting was also contributed by Timothy Williams in Beaumont, Tex.; Michael Brick in New Orleans; Thayer Evans in Galveston; Rick Lyman, Ralph Blumenthal and Maureen Balleza in Houston; William Yardley in Lake Charles, La.; Sewell Chan in Baton Rouge, La.; Eric Schmitt in Washington, and Shadi Rahimi in New York.

    Hurricane Lashes Texas and Louisiana Coastlines, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/25cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Fires Cause

Damage in Galveston, Houston

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:37 a.m. ET

 

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Wind from Hurricane Rita whipped up dramatic fires in this city's historic Strand District and parts of Houston, sending out swirls of sparkling embers even as rain poured down in sheets.

One building was nearly destroyed in Galveston; two others appeared heavily damaged. A burning electric pole was lying on one of the buildings.

''It was like a war zone, shooting fire across the street,'' Fire Chief Michael Varela said early Saturday.

No injuries were immediately reported in either city, which were virtual ghost towns because most residents had heeded calls to evacuate. Rita made landfall more than 100 miles away early Saturday along the Texas-Louisiana line.

One of the buildings that caught fire in Galveston was built in 1905, five years after the hurricane that destroyed most of this island city and killed at least 6,000 people. The damaged buildings were a bail bonds company, a Victorian-era home, and Eagle Lodge, a former fraternal club that's now an art gallery.

Varela said one person escaped the fire, but he didn't know the person's identity or condition. Officials at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston did not respond to requests for information about the person who escaped.

The Strand District includes historic buildings, night clubs and shops. It is the site of a massive Mardi Gras celebration and an annual Charles Dickens festival.

Several fires also were burning in and around Houston, including an apartment complex. In Pasadena, south of Houston, a Dollar General store was nearly engulfed in flames, Mike Baird of the Pasadena Police Department told KTRK-TV in Houston.

Despite the fires, officials were relieved that Rita spared the flood-prone cities a direct hit. Galveston initially had been at the center of forecasters' fears as Rita churned in the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities worried a high storm surge could overwhelm seawalls and submerge the island city.

''It looks like the Houston and Galveston area has really lucked out,'' said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center.

    Fires Cause Damage in Galveston, Houston, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Rita-Fires-HK1.html

 

 

 

 

 


Floods Reclaim

Neighborhoods That Are Already Ravaged

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times
By JERE LONGMAN and MICHAEL BRICK

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 23 - The waters returned to the Lower Ninth Ward on Friday, but this time, there was little left for them to destroy.

Three and a half weeks earlier, Hurricane Katrina exploded homes or shoved them off their foundations and flipped cars on their backs like turtles. Finally, the neighborhood had been pumped dry. But on Friday, Hurricane Rita pushed the water back through a breach in a hastily repaired canal levee.

By noon, three blocks from the breach, floodwaters had nearly reached the windows of homes that were already wrecked and abandoned.

"Nothing you can do about Mother Nature," Henry Rodriguez, the president of neighboring St. Bernard Parish, said in resignation as he watched from a bridge along Claiborne Avenue while water flooded anew into the impoverished area.

For rescuers and the Army Corps of Engineers, there was no need for an urgent response to the topping of the levee as a storm surge pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain into the Industrial Canal. The Lower Ninth Ward was desolate.

"It's already destroyed," David Wheeler, operations chief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's urban search and rescue teams, said from the Claiborne Avenue bridge. "The good thing is that virtually all of New Orleans is empty. Hopefully, there is a minimal chance that anyone will be stranded."

Mr. Wheeler's crews temporarily abandoned their mission because of safety threats posed by the new storm. "We stayed as long as we could," Mr. Wheeler said. "It's time to go. We'll be back."

By afternoon, two feet of water from the Lower Ninth Ward had flowed eastward into St. Bernard Parish, which was still without electricity but had at least been drying out.

Mr. Rodriguez and other parish officials argued that the Corps of Engineers had not sufficiently repaired the Industrial Canal breach, and had not listened when told that the stone, crushed rock and clay dike was about to be overwhelmed.

"It's going to take two weeks to get all the water out," Mr. Rodriguez said. "It's going to push back our recovery and re-entry effort. It concerns me that some of the resources used in our area are going to be taken away from our area for Rita. We're going to be second again."

A second breach of an Industrial Canal levee also sent water into the previously flooded Upper Ninth Ward, an industrial and residential area where homes were already marked with the stains of Katrina.

Plugs in levees weakened by Katrina at the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal were holding, the corps said, but rain and seepage along the repaired London Avenue Canal left water flowing several feet deep in some areas of the Gentilly and Mirabeau Gardens sections.

Side streets became rivers again, rising to the door handles of abandoned cars. On Prentiss Avenue, water rolled in waves, floating beer cans and making shorelines of the debris piles that already covered lawns. A manhole cover marked "Drain" sat in the muck eight feet from the hole it was meant to cover.

This new flooding blunted a nascent sense of renewal evident recently among city officials, and raised urgent questions about the need to improve the levee system here as New Orleans is rebuilt.

"Very depressing," Oliver Thomas Jr., the New Orleans City Council president, said in a radio interview.

Moments of calm traded with moments of gusting, diagonal rains here on Friday. The skies were dark with pregnant clouds and low thunder sounded far in the distance.

In the city center, the holdouts who had been gutting drywall or resting in lawn chairs on Canal Street a day before seemed to be gone by Friday morning. In their place, blowing debris made the once-cleared streets a slalom course of plastic chairs and buckets and tree limbs. A sign for David's Debris Removal was blown horizontal in the median.

Uptown, on an eerily empty St. Charles Avenue, Neull Griffith, an oil supply boat captain, kept an eye on The Avenue Pub, owned by a friend. A generator hummed, and beer was being served, but Mr. Griffith said he wondered whether more rain from Rita would leave the bar too sodden to repair.

"The roof is leaking pretty bad," Mr. Griffith said as he sat on a chair at St. Charles and Polymnia Street, water pooling at the curb. "I don't know if we can get the smell of rot out of the place. Everyone is in shock. But this is home. I don't belong no place else."

    Floods Reclaim Neighborhoods That Are Already Ravaged, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/24orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Pentagon Sending 500 Soldiers to Louisiana

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:44 a.m. ET

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon on Saturday was sending about 500 active-duty soldiers to Louisiana and five mortuary teams to Texas to deal with Hurricane Rita.

Troops from the 82nd Airborne were heading to Lafayette, La., about 135 miles west of New Orleans, to help with search-and-rescue efforts, said unit commander Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell. He said about 3,200 of his soldiers would be prepared to go to Lafayette by Sunday, if needed.

As a precaution, the U.S. Northern Command redirected mortuary teams from New Orleans to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, said spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Jody Vazquez. Five other teams were put on alert to support task forces responding to Rita and Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast nearly four weeks ago.

''Of course, we hope we don't have to use them,'' Vazquez said from the command's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. ''They are there to assist as necessary.''

President Bush tracked Rita from an Air Force base in the Rocky Mountain foothills, getting reports on flooding, search and rescue efforts and damage caused by the storm more than 1,000 miles away.

In a room lined by eight televisions, video screens and computers, Bush was briefed by federal officials on the military response to the storm that they said hit the Texas-Louisiana border with 91 miles per hour winds.

Bush traveled to the Northern Command to see firsthand how the military was working with state and local officials battling the hurricane.

Flooding in drought-stricken East Texas was a chief concern for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, as Rita slowed to a Category 2 hurricane in its northward march.

''I think the damage will be great, but I think the loss of life will be spared,'' Hutchison told CBS's ''The Early Show.''

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency urged Gulf residents to stay in their homes and wait out the hurricane.

''This is still a very dangerous storm,'' the agency's acting director, R. David Paulison, said on ABC's ''Good Morning America.''

''I know we're seeing reports on TV that maybe it wasn't as bad as people expected it to be. But there's still a lot of water, a lot of rain; still a lot of wind,'' he said.

Soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne planned to complete their relief work in re-flooded areas of northern New Orleans by late Saturday and then shift to areas of southwestern Louisiana damaged by Rita, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he was not aware of other active-duty ground forces under orders to go to areas hit by Rita. He said Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of all active-duty troops involved in the Katrina relief work, had moved his headquarters to Lafayette to focus on supporting civilian agencies responding to damage from Rita.

The Bush administration's mass mobilization for the storm sharply contrasted with its widely criticized preparations for Katrina.

''I think at this point the federal government has done pretty much all that's possible to do,'' Paulison said. ''Right now, we just have to wait out the storm, see exactly where it makes landfall, and then move ahead with our supplies that we have on the ground and our resources.''

Texas lawmakers reported fuel shortages and a lack of shelter for evacuated special-needs patients.

Anticipating Rita's landfall, FEMA stockpiled four days' worth of food, water and ice in Texas and Louisiana, and the Pentagon added 13,273 active-duty troops to the 36,108 National Guard personnel stationed throughout the region, Paulison said.

Forty Coast Guard aircraft, nine cutters and 26 Defense Department helicopters were ready to move in as soon as Rita passed though the area, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared a public health emergency Friday in the two states. That eased some of the requirements for hurricane victims who seek Medicaid or other assistance after the storm.

But officials in Rita's path pointed to some gaps that remained in the federal readiness system.

''We have thousands of people with no fuel or food, no shelters, no cots, no security,'' said Houston-area Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

AP Military Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.fema.gov/

    Pentagon Sending 500 Soldiers to Louisiana, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Hurricanes-Washington-HK4.html

 

 

 

 

 

Texas awaits Rita catastrophe

as coast battered

 

Sat Sep 24, 2005 12:27 AM ET
Reuters
By Kenneth Li

 

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (Reuters) - Texas officials warned of catastrophe and an already devastated New Orleans suffered renewed flooding as weakened levees gave way on Friday and the edges of Hurricane Rita began pummeling the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A chaotic and unprecedented mass evacuation of more than 2 million people trying to flee turned deadly when a bus carrying elderly evacuees along a major escape route south of Dallas burst into flames and killed at least 24 people.

"Be calm, be strong, say a prayer for Texas," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in the state capital of Austin.

Rita was downgraded to a strong Category 3 storm at midafternoon and its maximum winds dropped to about 120 mph (195 kph) as its outer edges assaulted the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

"Strong winds and heavy rains (are) battering Southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas," the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT).

It said little change was expected in the storm's intensity before landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border early on Saturday.

Downpours and wind from the storm's edges pounded hundreds of miles of U.S. Gulf coastline, much of it already damaged by Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago. Heavy rain was blown sideways by strong winds more than 100 miles inland in Louisiana.

Nearly all crude oil production in the Gulf and 30 percent of U.S. refining capacity was shut down. U.S. stocks edged higher and crude oil prices dropped however, as the storm's downgrade eased fears of major damage to refineries.

A large fire broke out in downtown Galveston late on Friday, engulfing three buildings and sending flames shooting into the sky as the first winds from Hurricane Rita began whipping the coastal island. Fire crews moved in to battle the blaze in the mostly evacuated city.

Lying in the path of the charging storm was Port Arthur, Texas, which was likely to suffer a "catastrophic flood" from an 18- to 22-foot (6- to 7-meter) storm surge, said Jack Colley, director of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

He predicted 16 hours of hurricane-force winds where the storm hits and an onslaught of tornadoes. "It will be severe," he said.

 

FLEEING CITY

Most residents fled the low-lying, largely poor city but some remained, fearful of going to a shelter after the post-Katrina chaos and deadly violence in New Orleans.

"I'm really scared. We're going to get wiped out," said Annie Johnson, 54, staying behind with daughters Anisha and Monique and a year-old granddaughter.

Port Arthur Mayor Oscar Ortiz told CNN 95 percent of the residents had left and he was ordering a mandatory evacuation.

As motorists frantically jammed highways inland from the Texas coast, residents of Houston who had not yet escaped were advised to stay home.

Fuel trucks and aid workers rushed gasoline and water to the thousands of stranded people who ran out of fuel in the miles-long lines of stalled traffic. By late on Friday, the main traffic arteries were largely cleared.

Hurricane force winds could be expected to reach as far as 100 miles inland in Rita's path, forecasters said.

"Those people at risk should not get on the highways to evacuate. People should prepare to shelter in place if they have not evacuated." said Bill White, mayor of Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city with a metropolitan population of 4 million.

In New Orleans, fast-rising water from Rita's outer edge spilled over a freshly patched levee to flood neighborhoods already deserted and devastated by Katrina. Officials said they expected few deaths.

Water from the city's industrial canal, where the levee breached during Katrina, submerged streets in the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish where nearly all the homes are already ruined.

The levees appeared to have suffered at least two breaches "of some size," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Washington.

"The waters in the industrial canal had risen very rapidly ... far above what was ever predicted or anticipated in the area," said Dan Hitchings of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He said workers had patched the sides of the canal with sandbags, crushed stone and compacted soil since Katrina.

"Looking back, we should have put another foot on it," he said. "Looking back, you say, gosh, I wish we had done a little more."

Louisiana officials said state shelters were full and it was probably too late for remaining coastal residents to leave.

"Right now everybody is pretty much ready to ride the storm out," said Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security, in Baton Rouge.

Smith said officials did not know how many people remained behind in southwestern Louisiana, but added, "We don't believe it's a significant number."

The struggles of residents trying to flee the Gulf coastal areas, including Houston, highlighted how a quick and efficient evacuation of a large urban area could not be assured despite extensive emergency planning after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

When Katrina hit on August 29, thousands were left stranded in New Orleans. Katrina has killed at least 1,069 people and displaced as many as 1 million.

The twin impact of Rita and Katrina has forced the American Red Cross to launch a relief effort 20 times bigger than any previous operation, spokesman Jack Sheehan said in Baton Rouge.

 

TORNADOES POSSIBLE

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), the center of the hurricane was about 55 miles southeast of coastal Sabine Pass, at the border of Texas and Louisiana, moving northwest at 12 mph (18 kph).

A hurricane warning remained in effect along a 350-mile (560-km) stretch of coast from Sargent, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

Forecasters said tornadoes were possible in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

U.S. President George W. Bush, criticized for a slow federal response to Katrina, scrapped plans to visit Texas on Friday to view the emergency preparations.

The White House said he did not want to get in the way and flew directly to a Colorado military base to monitor Hurricane Rita. It said Bush now planned to make two stops in Texas on Saturday to get a closer look at state and federal response efforts.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily, Mark Babineck and Jeff Franks in Houston, Bernie Woodall in New York, Ellen Wulfhorst in Baton Rouge and Andy Sullivan in New Orleans)

    Texas awaits Rita catastrophe as coast battered, R, 24.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T042630Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Lashes Coast;

Levees Breached in New Orleans

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN and JERE LONGMAN

 

BEAUMONT, Tex., Sept. 23 - Hurricane Rita began lashing coastal cities up and down Louisiana and Texas on Friday, with Beaumont recording wind gusts at the airport of up to 72.5 miles per hour, just shy of hurricane strength, by 10:30 in the evening.

Earlier in the day, wind-whipped water on the storm's periphery once again flooding a pair of low-lying areas of New Orleans, while a mass evacuation in Texas left at least 24 elderly passengers dead in a bus fire.

The hurricane weakened to a Category 3, with winds at 120 m.p.h., down from a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm on Wednesday. But it was still bringing destruction.

A storm surge of seven feet pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain through the Industrial Canal and cascaded over a repaired levee into the Lower Ninth Ward, one of New Orleans's most impoverished neighborhoods, which had been devastated nearly a month earlier by Hurricane Katrina and submerged under as much as 20 feet of water.

The damage in New Orleans heightened fears over Hurricane Rita, which forced a chaotic exodus of more than two million residents from the Gulf Coast this week. Cities in southeast Texas braced for the storm to hit by early Saturday.

Meteorologists said the hurricane's projected path had veered slightly to the east, potentially striking land east of Houston and Galveston and closer to Port Arthur and Beaumont, two cities with large oil and chemical complexes. The possibility of damage to pipelines and refineries in Texas added to concern over the tumultuous depletion of gasoline supplies in parts of the state.

"Say a prayer for Texas," said Gov. Rick Perry, who described the storm as a "great test."

In Beaumont, directly in the projected path of the storm, city and county officials, firefighters, paramedics and other workers camped out in the 17-story headquarters of Entergy, the power company, setting up cots among piles of clothes donated for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In Galveston late Friday night, high winds began shattering windows at the San Luis resort where more than 200 first responders were prepared to stay throughout the night. Steve LeBlanc, city manager, ordered everyone in the hotel to the second floor conference room, considered the most secure area in the entire complex.

A contingent of firefighters in the San Luis, meanwhile, streamed out after a fire consuming part of a residential block was reported near downtown. Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said the fire had destroyed three historic Victorian homes. "We're very anxious for the dawn to come," Ms. Thomas said in an interview.

The earlier mass evacuations in Texas caused other problems. A bus carrying 38 nursing home residents and six employees from the Houston area caught fire and exploded Friday morning on a highway just south of Dallas, killing at least 24 passengers in the bus, said Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

The storm also prompted preparations far from the region. Georgia announced that it would close all public schools on Monday and Tuesday to conserve fuel and help avoid the lines for gasoline that grew after Hurricane Katrina.

Energy markets, frantic with the possibility that Hurricane Rita might wreak havoc on refineries and petrochemical plants, were relieved somewhat at the close of trading Friday when it appeared the storm might veer from the largest complexes along the Gulf Coast. Oil prices fell $2.31 to $64.19 a barrel.

In Washington, where the Bush administration had been criticized for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, the president visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday. But he canceled a planned trip to Texasto avoid interfering with emergency preparations and planned to monitor the storm late Friday from the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

"We're now facing another big storm," Mr. Bush said while at FEMA. "Our job is to prepare for and assist state and local people to save lives and help these people get back on their feet."

Federal officials declared a public health emergency for Texas and Louisiana.

By evening it was the cities along the border of Texas and Louisiana that seemed to be in the storm's direct path. "The core of Hurricane Rita will make landfall along the southwest Louisiana and upper Texas coasts near daybreak," the National Hurricane Center said.

Communities evacuated, and residents huddled in shelters. Port Arthur, normally a town of 60,000 protected by a seawall built to sustain a 16-foot storm surge, was vacant but for a few who refused to leave.

Lake Charles, La., a city of about 72,000 just east of the Texas line, was also effectively empty, from the casino boats floating at the docks downtown to the rooms at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, which evacuated 132 patients on Friday, most on planes flown from the former Chennault Air Force Base.

And in San Augustine Park, 90 miles north of Beaumont, hundreds of people from southeast Texas set up camp in recreational vehicles and tents in the densely forested park run by the Army Corps of Engineers despite warnings of tornadoes, falling trees and rising lake waters. "There aren't any hotels and we couldn't get gas to go any farther north," said one, Dennis Cargill of Orangefield.

In New Orleans, water also topped a levee on the other side of the Industrial Canal, sending it flowing into the Upper Ninth Ward, an industrial and residential area where homes were already marked with the stains of Hurricane Katrina. But officials said no additional loss of life or property was expected in these areas, previously pumped dry, that had been abandoned since the earlier storm.

"This is very dramatic, but I don't consider it an emergency situation," said Stephen Browning, a programs director for the Corps of Engineers, as he inspected the breeches from atop a nearby bridge. Still, the repeat flooding was disheartening for evacuated residents and for some local and state officials, dramatically pointing to the need to shore up the city's levee system in the rebuilding process.

"We have to think about building a safe New Orleans," Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said at a news conference in Baton Rouge, La. "Our plans include building stronger and higher levees to protect all of the city's neighborhoods."

By noon Friday, water had nearly reached the window level of some homes in the Lower Ninth Ward as far as three blocks from the topped levee between Claiborne and Florida Avenues.

Early gusts from Hurricane Rita brought winds of 25 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. to New Orleans through Friday afternoon. Rain fell intermittently. Sometimes it drizzled; other times it blew sideways in stinging blasts.

The Army Corps of Engineers said that levee repairs at the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal were holding and were expected to provide protection against storm surges as high as 10 to 12 feet. Metal pilings, rocks and sandbags were used to temporarily seal breaches made by Hurricane Katrina.

But, some seepage was expected, the corps said, and in the Gentilly and Mirabeau Gardens sections along the London Avenue Canal, water could be seen rising to the tops of tires of cars on some streets. Officials in St. Bernard Parish said it might take two weeks to pump out all the new water.

In Texas, fuel shortages and the closing of airports in Houston added to problems for residents trying to flee from the storm. The Texas National Guard sent 5,000 trucks with gasoline to supply stranded vehicles along the highways leading out of Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and Galveston.

Coast Guard helicopters also transported fuel to 11 locations of the Texas Department of Transportation to assist in refueling the gasoline trucks. In Houston, commercial flights from the city's two main airports ceased operations at noon on Friday, with stranded passengers told to seek refuge in shelters around the city.

As the skies darkened over Houston Friday afternoon, the city grew eerily still, with the normally congested streets and highways empty of traffic.

Although the hurricane looked like it would spare the city a direct hit, Mayor Bill White said at a news briefing, "Winds of 50, 60 miles per hour may be better news than 120 miles per hour, but a lot of glass can be broken."

He warned residents against going close to windows to observe the hurricane because the windows could blow out. "There'll be plenty of time to watch on TV rather than get close to the window," Mr. White said.

In the face of recriminations over the massive traffic tie-ups that clogged escape routes for hundreds of miles into Friday, the mayor said he took pride in the effort that had spirited about 2.5 million people out of harm's way.

"I hate traffic more than anybody I've ever met," Mr. White said, but he defended the turmoil as worthwhile in the end. The ghostly streets were a welcome sight on Friday, he said, "that is exactly what we wanted to see at this time."

Throughout the day coastal Texas also frantically tried to ready itself for the storm. In Galveston, with the city emptied of most residents, officials moved emergency response operations to the conference center built atop a bunker that was once part of an old coastal defense installation, Fort Crockett. The conference center, part of the San Luis Resort complex, was thought to be the best location in Galveston to ride out the storm, said Mr. LeBlanc, the city manager.

With dozens of residents still in Galveston despite a mandatory evacuation, Mayor Thomas said the city had set up a refuge for about 100 residents at the Alamo Elementary School. "There are no doctors, no nurses, no triage," Ms. Thomas said. "It's just a refuge, and I would like to make that clear."

Less than a dozen people had shown up at the refuge by late Friday afternoon. Sitting on a cot as he cried, Miguel Rincon said he had terminal cancer and less than two years to live. He came to the school with his sister, Angelina Rincon, 63, and a brother, Raul Rincon, 73, who recently suffered from heat stroke.

"I'd rather be walking on the beach, anything instead of just possibly dying in the storm," said Miguel Rincon, 60, a retired road maintenance worker. "I don't want to die."

Mr. Rincon said his roommate took him and his siblings to the school after they heard about the refuge center on television.

Jere Longman reported fromNew Orleans for this article, and Shaila Dewan from Beaumont, Tex.Reporting was alsocontributed byMichael Brick in New Orleans; Thayer Evans in Galveston; Simon Romero in Galveston, Tex.;Ralph Blumenthal and Maureen Balleza in Houston; William Yardley in Hackberry, La.; Sewell Chan in Baton Rouge, La.; and Eric Schmitt in Washington.

    Storm Lashes Coast; Levees Breached in New Orleans, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/24storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Evacuating Senior Center Burns,

Killing 24 Near Dallas

 

September 24, 2005
By RICK LYMAN and LAURA GRIFFIN
HOUSTON, Sept. 23 - A bus evacuating frail residents from a suburban Houston senior-living center burst into flames and was rocked by explosions on a traffic-choked highway south of Dallas early Friday, leaving behind a charred and grisly wreck and two dozen dead.

Harry Wilson, 78, one of the survivors, said smoke had begun pouring out of a wheel well on the bus around 6:30 a.m., not long after the driver had stopped to change a tire. Later, when the bus was back on the road, there was a pop, Mr. Wilson said, and the driver pulled over again near the town of Wilmer, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Within minutes the bus filled with smoke.

The driver, assisted by other motorists, fire department personnel and a deputy sheriff, struggled to get the passengers off, and they succeeded with some, including Mr. Wilson. But then oxygen canisters in the passenger compartment and in cargo holds erupted in a series of explosions, engulfing the vehicle in flames and forcing the rescuers outside. Some tried to smash the windows to save passengers, but the heat drove them back.

"It was mass hysteria, a lot of screaming," Mr. Wilson said, weeping, as he was being wheeled out of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on Friday evening. "What I recall is the bus blew up. Let's put it this way, the fire department pulled me out of there like a newborn baby."

Two of the passengers had been evacuated from senior facilities in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, three weeks ago, according to local officials; at least one of those passengers died.

The bus was transporting 38 residents and five employees of Brighton Gardens, an assisted-living center and nursing home with 140 residents in Bellaire, a small city of 16,000 a few miles southwest of downtown Houston. A relative of one employee was also on board. The bus had left the facility at 3 p.m. Thursday, meaning it had been on the hot, congested highways for more than 14 hours when the tragedy occurred.

Fearing that Hurricane Rita would pulverize Houston, and mindful of the deaths of dozens of nursing home residents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during Katrina, the facility's managers decided to relocate its residents to another site in Dallas owned by the same company, Sunrise Senior Living, which operates 420 centers in four countries.

Coming amid a mass exodus from the Houston area and the Texas Gulf Coast on Thursday that clogged every highway leading inland, the bus disaster underlined concerns that the evacuation had been mishandled, sending too many people onto roads that could not accommodate them. A new, 20-mile traffic jam was created by the wreckage, further exacerbating the problem and forcing authorities to close the interstate and divert traffic.

The tragedy also seemed to serve as an eerie mirror image of the deaths of New Orleans nursing home residents who had been abandoned in that stricken city.

"I thought the evacuation was ill-conceived from the beginning," said Mr. Wilson's son, Jeffrey Wilson, 47. "To evacuate people who are not mobile, but who are then stuck on the bus. They didn't really have to be up here."

Sarah Evers, a spokeswoman for Sunrise, defended the decision as appropriate in advance of Hurricane Rita, which had been forecast to affect the community. "Resident safety was our primary concern," she said. "We are absolutely shocked and saddened by what happened."

Cindy Siegel, the mayor of Bellaire, also backed the decision. "If you recall, 24 hours ago, we expected to take the full brunt of Hurricane Rita," she said.

Paul Williams, director of external affairs for the Assisted Living Federation of America, said memories of Katrina's deaths were still fresh.

"I've talked to several facilities in Houston and obviously, in light of what happened in New Orleans, people are much more likely to err on the side of being completely safe and not hesitating to move people," he said.

Brighton Gardens is both a nursing home, where extensive care is provided to the very weak, and an assisted-living center, for more independent residents, and it was not immediately clear which type of residents were on the bus.

Police and company officials said they were rushing to identify the remains and to notify the families. None of the dead were employees of Brighton Gardens, Ms. Evers said.

Mr. Wilson and nine other survivors, including the driver, were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital on Friday morning. Only one of those admitted was severely injured, and her condition was upgraded from critical to stable by Friday evening. Other survivors were taken to other hospitals.

The injuries included cuts, scrapes, burns and the results of smoke inhalation, said Terry Jones, the interim chief nursing officer at the hospital. The greater distress was mental, she said.

"There is also a lot of anxiety among these patients as they ask us, 'Who made it?' " Ms. Jones said. "We can't answer that question."

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board was dispatched to investigate the incident, though it was expected to be days and perhaps weeks before a clear picture of the cause would emerge.

Health care facilities must follow national guidelines on the storage and use of oxygen, said Burton Klein, a health care, fire and electrical safety consultant based in Boston.

The federal government regulates the transport of large volumes of oxygen, but Mr. Klein said he doubted that there are any rules about the use and storage of the gas on private buses. Airlines and Amtrak have their own guidelines that usually limit oxygen to one canister per person.

Upon arriving at Brighton Gardens, Tammy Cumings, the company's area sales manager, said, "We're absolutely horrified." She added, "We just wanted to hear that they got to a safe place."

Behind the metal gates, a police vehicle was parked, keeping watch over the two-story garden apartments stretching over a manicured lawn. The facility's Web site boasts of "attractive suites complete with full bath," wall-to-wall carpeting and an emergency response system in every apartment.

The facility signed a contract with a national bus chartering company to provide two buses to carry its residents to Dallas. That company, the Chicago-based BusBank, hired Global Limo, a small chartering company with 6 vehicles and 10 drivers in McAllen, far south of Houston on the Mexican border. The other bus, carrying 16 residents, was also from Global Limo and arrived without incident.

William R. Maulsby, chief executive of The BusBank, said it had never had any problems with Global Limo's buses. "In our opinion, it's a good operation with a good safety record," he said. "Obviously, something awful happened here."

A woman answering the phone at the limousine company declined to comment. But a few hours later, the company's co-owner, James H. Maples, issued a statement.

"We at Global Limo are deeply grieved over the tragedy that occurred this morning," he said. "As of this time, we have no official information from law enforcement."

Public records show that Mr. Maples, who briefly played professional football for the old Baltimore Colts, and Virginia K. Maples filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the bus company in February. Kelly McKinnis, a lawyer in McAllen who represents Mr. Maples in those proceedings, said the bankruptcy "absolutely" did not affect the company's ability to operate safely.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, four of Global Limo's buses were inspected in the last two years and none were taken out of service. No accidents were reported.

The remains of the bus and its occupants were taken to a nearby county truck facility, where the bodies were transferred to a refrigerated morgue truck.

"What's left are the charred remains of individuals," said John Wiley Price, a Dallas County commissioner. "They're going to have to use tissue and dental records to identify these people, and that could take three to four weeks."

Walt Bogdanich and Vikas Bajaj contributed reporting from New York for this article, and Steven Greenhouse from Houston.

    Bus Evacuating Senior Center Burns, Killing 24 Near Dallas, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/24bus.html

 

 

 

 

 

'Katrina Effect' Pushed Texans Into Gridlock

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL and DAVID BARSTOW

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 23 - At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, with Hurricane Rita gathering strength and aimed at Texas, Mayor Bill White of Houston ordered mandatory evacuations from low-lying sections of the city while urging voluntary evacuations from flood-prone neighborhoods and mobile homes.

His pleas were entirely consistent with the region's established evacuation plans, plans that disaster officials had rehearsed and honed for years. Under those plans, 1.25 million people, at most, were expected to leave. The big worry was whether enough people would heed evacuation orders.

Instead, an estimated 2.5 million people took flight, including tens of thousands who lived in relatively safe areas. What was planned as an orderly evacuation produced scenes of gridlock, chaos and mass frustration, with Mayor White warning of "deathtrap" highways.

The danger, it turned out, was not that too few would listen, but that too many did.

In interviews on Friday, state and local officials acknowledged a glaring flaw in their planning, the failure to account for the psychological effects of Hurricane Katrina, or what was instantly labeled "the Katrina effect."

"We had a lot more people evacuated than should have evacuated," said Frank E. Gutierrez, emergency management coordinator of Harris County, which includes Houston. "But because of Katrina, the damage that happened in Louisiana, a lot of people were scared."

If anything, well-intentioned officials magnified the effect by repeatedly lacing evacuation pleas with reminders of the death toll and devastation in New Orleans.

"Don't follow the example of New Orleans," Mayor White pleaded on Wednesday.

As a result, though, state and local disaster officials struggled with problems never envisioned in any evacuation plan, 100-mile-long traffic jams, dehydrated babies in stifling cars and hundreds of motorists who simply ran out of gasoline trying to flee on choked roads.

In some cases, government improvised successfully. State employees, for example, delivered free gasoline to thousands of stranded motorists. The Houston bus system, with help from hundreds of volunteers, distributed 45,000 bottles of water to motorists.

But there were also numerous examples of a sluggish response.

After Mayor White ordered mandatory evacuations, it took nearly 22 hours for officials to order that all lanes of Interstate 45, the city's main evacuation route, be used for traffic leaving Houston. It took an additional five hours for state transportation officials to execute the order.

In the case of U.S. 290, another major evacuation route, county officials said there were not enough law enforcement officials available to close feeder streets and safely manage one-way traffic.

It remains to be seen whether the traffic problems contributed to the bus explosion outside Dallas early Friday morning that killed at least 24 elderly evacuees from an assisted-living center in Houston. The bus had taken more than 14 hours to make what is usually a five-hour trip.

Judge Robert Eckels, the highest elected official in Harris County, defended the overall evacuation effort but acknowledged that officials did too little to prepare residents for huge traffic problems.

"The biggest flaw in this plan was communications," Judge Eckels said. "They didn't understand what could happen. They could be 20 hours on the road. 'Don't get up here unless you have a full tank of gas.' We did not do a good enough job of telling people that you get on the road, it may take 20 hours."

A spokesman for the State Transportation Department, Mike Cox, offered a different explanation for the preparations. No one could have predicted, Mr. Cox said, how many Texans would be so seriously frightened by Hurricane Katrina.

"Not one of our 15,000 employees is a psychologist," he said.

In defending the response, Mr. Cox stressed the bottom line that despite nightmarish delays, millions of Texans made it to safety.

"This was, as best we can tell, probably the largest evacuation in American history," he said.

Indeed, traffic problems eased noticeably throughout the state on Friday. Some motorists simply gave up, turned around and returned home. At the same time, state and local officials tried to tamp down the evacuation, emphasizing that residents should hunker down and ride out the storm if they lived on high ground.

Just as Hurricane Katrina prompted a re-examination of planning in Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Rita is likely to focus attention on planning here.

Why didn't Texas plan for an evacuation of this magnitude?

Greg Evans, a disaster planning expert who directs the Institute for BioSecurity at the St. Louis University School of Public Health, said state disaster officials too often failed to plan for the worst.

"People just like to believe things aren't going to be as bad as they are going to be," Dr. Evans said. "Their plans assume that 1.5 million people will evacuate when the reality is that 2.5 million people are evacuating.

"All of a sudden, highways are jammed, people are running out of gas. All these things just spiral."

In September 2004, Gov. Rick Perry ordered the state's Office of Homeland Security to evaluate evacuation plans. The review, delivered in March, identified weaknesses, particularly in the "Houston-Galveston Evacuation Area."

The weaknesses included evacuation routes not wide enough to "handle large-scale movements of evacuees," routes that were too low and flood-prone, radio systems that cannot communicate with one another and inadequate monitoring of congestion.

The report made 18 recommendations. State officials said few had put been put into effect.

One recommendation was to install traffic counters on evacuation routes to monitor the heaviest traffic flows. Officials said they expected to have a plan for the counters by the end of the month.

A spokesman for Mr. Perry did not respond to telephone messages for comment.

"There can always be a better plan," Judge Eckels said. "The next time there will be a better plan."

    'Katrina Effect' Pushed Texans Into Gridlock, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/national/nationalspecial/24houston.html

 

 

 

 

 

Gulf Coast Insurance Expected to Soar

 

September 24, 2005
The New York Times

By JOSEPH B. TREASTER

 

The cost of insurance for homes and businesses is expected to rise sharply in the Gulf Coast states because of Hurricane Katrina, and even more so with Hurricane Rita, industry experts said yesterday. Policyholders far from the battered coastline are also expected to face higher premiums.

Prices for home insurance in New Orleans, elsewhere in Louisiana and in Mississippi could easily jump an average of 15 percent to 30 percent, industry executives and analysts said. In other states vulnerable to hurricanes, they said, the increase might be as little as 3 percent to 5 percent, with smaller rises in areas far from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

Insurance for offices, factories and other businesses, which is less heavily regulated, is expected to rise even more than home insurance.

"It's going to be quite pronounced in the affected areas," said Robert P. Hartwig, the chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group in New York.

Insurance companies themselves will have to pay significantly more for the coverage they buy from each other to spread their risk, coverage known as reinsurance, insurance executives said. That expense is expected to jump 10 percent to 20 percent, reversing a recent decline of more than 10 percent a year.

The increase will be passed on to homeowners and businesses, a major reason premiums are expected to rise not only in areas of the United States far from the Gulf Coast but around the world as well.

"Think of this as throwing a rock into a lake and the next thing you have little waves going out in all directions," said Kevin Lampo, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

Prices usually jump after a big hurricane as losses reduce the insurers' pool of capital and customers seek to maintain or increase coverage - a classic example of supply-and-demand economics. The insurers say they do not literally raise their prices to recover losses. But, in a process that has the same effect, they factor in the new losses as a potential cost in the future and raise prices to give them enough money to pay those claims if they occur.

"We project out into the future what our loss costs are going to be and we do that with a new set of glasses," said Michael Trevino, a spokesman for Allstate, the nation's second-largest home and auto insurer behind State Farm. Even before Hurricane Rita, industry executives said the estimated losses from Katrina and two other weaker hurricanes had already made this year the most costly ever for natural disasters.

Many insurance executives expect the industry's cost from Hurricane Katrina alone to be about $35 billion. One storm damage tracking firm, Risk Management Solutions, even calculates a cost of $40 billion to $60 billion. As Hurricane Rita moved toward Texas late yesterday, Mr. Hartwig estimated that damage might be $4 billion to $8 billion, down from perhaps $30 billion had the storm churned directly over Galveston and Houston with their heavy concentration of petrochemical plants and other businesses.

One computer-generated estimate by Eqecat, a storm tracking company, put potential losses at as much as $18 billion, assuming the storm went ashore near Port Arthur, Tex., and the Louisiana border as a strong Category 3 or weak Category 4 hurricane.

The previous industry record for natural disasters was a little more than $27 billion last year, when four powerful hurricanes hit Florida. The insurers paid about $35 billion in today's dollars for losses in the World Trade Center attacks.

"This is going to be the worst hurricane year in terms of costs, and we haven't even seen what Rita is going to do," said Karen M. Clark, the chief executive of AIR Worldwide, a Boston company that calculates hurricane damage.

The insurers are hoping that the heavy losses will generate support in Washington for a program they have long sought that would provide them federal assistance in dealing with big natural disasters. They also hope the storms will increase support in Congress for renewal of the government program that promises to pay the majority of insurance losses in a terrorist attack, up to $100 billion. That terrorism program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The storm damage has driven down stock prices for many insurance companies, and industry executives say some smaller companies may be forced into bankruptcy. Nearly a dozen small insurers collapsed after Hurricane Andrew, which hit in 1992 and cost the industry about $23 billion in today's dollars. Andrew was the most expensive single hurricane until Katrina.

The insurers may face an additional estimated $15 billion in costs if they are forced to pay for extensive flood damage from the storm surge caused by Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Their policies specifically rule out responsibility for any kind of flood damage, the insurers say. Even so, both Jim Hood, the attorney general of Mississippi, and Richard Scruggs, a plaintiffs' lawyer who was prominent in the $246 billion settlement with the tobacco industry a few years ago, say they are determined to make the insurers pay.

The Mississippi attorney general is seeking a temporary restraining order preventing the insurers from enforcing the flood exclusion in their policies, and Mr. Scruggs said he was preparing to file individual lawsuits on behalf of at least several hundred homeowners.

"This is a big issue for pricing," Ms. Clark said. "If they are required to pay for flooding, when they reprice their policies, they're going to have to account for that peril, which they had not accounted for previously."

The insurers' rationale for price increases for hurricane coverage is being reinforced by meteorologists' predictions that the United States is in for possibly a long period of unusually heavy storm assaults.

When it turns out that the insurers have overestimated future costs, they are required to reduce their prices to reflect the more favorable experience with claims. That has been happening for home insurance customers over the last few years, especially in Texas, where many large claims for mold damage pushed prices up. The insurers' costs fell sharply after they succeeded in getting Texas and other states to permit them to end coverage for mold.

After the four hurricanes swept Florida last year, insurers began pushing up prices for home insurance there by as much as 30 percent, with some homeowners hit with increases of more than 50 percent. For some in the most vulnerable areas, the price increases along the Gulf Coast could run even higher than in Florida, experts said.

Even though insurance prices in Florida are among the highest in the country, they are being restrained by tough building codes, which reduce damage and risk for insurance companies, and a state fund that pays much of the losses in the worst hurricanes. None of the gulf states have these buffers.

    Gulf Coast Insurance Expected to Soar, NYT, 24.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/business/24insure.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bush skips Texas

to avoid hampering Rita response

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:28 PM ET
Reuters
By Adam Entous

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, still smarting over criticism for his slow response to Katrina, flew to a Colorado military base on Friday to monitor Hurricane Rita after abruptly canceling a trip to Texas to avoid interfering with relief operations.

The White House said Bush now planned to make two stops in Texas on Saturday to get a closer look at state and federal response efforts.

En route to the U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, where he saw satellite images of the storm and flooding projections, Bush spoke to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Coast Guard Vice Adm Thad Allen about the New Orleans flooding, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Bush had planned to visit San Antonio on Friday before flying on to Colorado. McClellan said the cancellation came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency decided to reposition search-and-rescue teams from San Antonio closer to the storm zone.

"We didn't want to slow up that decision in any way. The president made the decision to go straight to Colorado," McClellan said.

At the U.S. Northern Command, created in 2002 to head the military's land, sea and air defense of the United States, Bush planned to check on coordination between federal, state and local authorities.

"It's an important relationship, and I need to understand how it works better," said Bush, who last week proposed the federal government and U.S. military have broader responsibility to respond to domestic crises like hurricanes.

Bush's approval ratings plunged in the polls after the slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which hit August 29 and killed more 1,000 people and displaced 1 million.

On Saturday morning, Bush will receive another update on the storm and meet with troops.

Then he will fly to Austin, Texas, where he will visit the state emergency operations center before traveling to San Antonio, where he will spend the night, McClellan said.

Bush already has made five visits to the region hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and scrambled to assure Americans that he is on top of the situation this time.

"We will make sure that my entourage does not get in the way of people doing their job, which will be search and rescue immediately. Rest assured, I understand that we must not and will not interfere with the important work that will be going forward," Bush said hours before the Texas stop was canceled.

The White House was keeping Bush's schedule largely free in coming days with further travel to the disaster zone possible.

Amid charges that the response to Katrina also was slow because many of the victims were poor and black, Bush held a private White House meeting with Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The NAACP is the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Bush angered the group in 2004 for refusing to talk to the NAACP's annual convention in Philadelphia.

An NAACP spokesman described the meeting as constructive but gave no other details. McClellan said the two men "had a good discussion and talked about ways we can work together on shared priorities."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Wilson)

    Bush skips Texas to avoid hampering Rita response, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T012715Z_01_DIT404997_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-BUSH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Stubborn stay behind as Rita eyes Texas

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 7:11 PM ET
Reuters
By Kenneth Li

 

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (Reuters) - Word of the devastation that Hurricane Rita could bring Port Arthur scared Annie Johnson, but not as much as the uncertainty of leaving.

Johnson, 54, her two daughters and a granddaughter planned on Friday to ride out the storm, which was forecast to veer into the impoverished southeastern Texas city overnight.

"My grandbaby is going to be 2 next month, if we make it," Johnson said as she and her family sat outside the Prince Hall Village apartments, listening to a transistor radio.

Johnson was concerned about Rita and the threat that Port Arthur could be inundated by a massive storm surge, but she said she was more worried about getting caught in a traffic jam or at a squalid shelter like those in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"I'm really scared. I'm wondering if I'm regretting ... staying here. If (the Gulf of Mexico) overflows, it's coming straight this way," she said as her 12-year-old daughter, Anisha, sat in her Tweety Bird slippers eating egg rolls.

Johnson was among a handful of stragglers in the Port Arthur-Beaumont area, which, like other cities, emptied out as evacuees heeded pleas to leave ahead of Rita. Officials said the city was now 95 percent empty.

However, there were a few like Johnson who stayed behind.

Hope Willey, 39, declined a bus ride out because it would not allow her to take her dog along.

"Hell, yes, I'm scared," she said.

Johnny Atkins, 66, was worried he could face legal problems if an evacuation bus took him away from Texas.

"I'm on parole and haven't gotten in touch with my parole officer," he said as he strolled down a deserted Port Arthur street. "I didn't want to run out of state."

His family is safe, Atkins said. He feared he was not. "I ain't going to lie to you. Yes, I'm scared," Atkins said.

    Stubborn stay behind as Rita eyes Texas, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-23T231107Z_01_DIT372574_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-PORTARTHUR.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Floodwaters surge into New Orleans again

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 10:17 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Floodwaters poured into New Orleans again on Friday as Hurricane Rita inundated several square miles (kilometres) of this still-devastated city but officials said they expected few deaths since the affected neighborhoods were largely deserted.

Dozens of recently drained blocks in neighborhoods flooded by Hurricane Katrina were swamped again after surging storm waters topped the levees in at least three places along the Industrial Canal, which runs through several poor but historic neighborhoods.

"We were hoping this wouldn't happen, but with Rita knocking at our door we're stuck with this," said Mark Heimann, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Officials at the scene said they expected minimal loss of life as the affected neighborhoods had been uninhabitable after Katrina and residents had been prevented from returning. Rescue teams went door-to-door looking for residents until Friday morning, when the searches were suspended.

Throughout the day, a 30-foot-wide (9-metre-wide) waterfall poured over a recently patched section of levee into the Lower Ninth Ward where water had begun to seep through on Thursday.

On Flood Street, 10 blocks from the gap, water was knee-high and rising steadily by midafternoon.

Flood waters reached east of the city into neighboring St. Bernard Parish, and west roughly for 2 miles through residential streets still ravaged by the last flood.

"It's frustrating, but there ain't nothing you can do about Mother Nature," said St. Bernard Parish President Henry Rodriguez.

The Army Corps of Engineers rushed 12 trucks full of boulders through the city to try to close one gap but could not dump them where they were needed. Corps officials said there was little they could do to stop the flooding because high winds prevented them from reaching the affected sections by helicopter.

In more upscale neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain also heavily hit by Katrina, new metal barriers withstood a five-foot (1.5-meter) storm surge, though water seeped through some repaired levee sections.

Richard Pinner, an Army Corps civil engineer, said seepage was unavoidable because the Corps has only had time to patch the damaged sections with boulders and gravel rather than more impermeable materials like clay or synthetic membranes.

The seepage had been steady even before the storm, he said.

But one state senator said the Corps should have had plenty of time to put more durable levees in place.

"Any idiot knows stone and gravel wasn't going to work when you have water coming up like this," said Sen. Walter Boasso, whose district includes St. Bernard Parish. "It's the same water we dealt with three weeks ago."

New Orleans resident Jeffrey Holmes said he did not think his house 2-1/2 half blocks west of the Industrial Canal would flood again even though it took on 3 feet of water after Katrina hit.

"I don't think where I'm at is going to be a problem," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in Baton Rouge)

    Floodwaters surge into New Orleans again, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-24T021648Z_01_SPI353372_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-LEVEES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Oil slides 3.5 percent as Rita weakens

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 7:01 PM ET
Reuters
By Richard Valdmanis

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude oil prices slumped 3.5 percent on Friday as massive Hurricane Rita weakened before landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, easing fears the second major storm in a month would lead to prolonged energy shortages by damaging refineries and pipelines.

U.S. crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $2.31 to $64.19 a barrel while prices on London's International Petroleum Exchange dropped $2.16 to $62.44.

Rita, expected to strike the Texas and Louisiana coasts Saturday morning, has already paralyzed a vast swath of U.S. refining and crude production. But dealers anticipated a weakening of the storm could make it easier for the industry to bounce back.

"The thinking is it will be less of a direct hit on Houston and therefore less damaging to energy interests and that was enough for people to take some profits," said Marshall Steeves, analyst at Refco Group in New York.

Nearly 30 percent of U.S. refining capacity was shut down, along with nearly all oil production from the Gulf of Mexico, as companies battened down for Rita's heavy winds, massive waves and flooding.

"The total amount of refinery capacity shut down amounts to nearly 5 million barrels per day," EIA, the Energy Department's analytical arm, said in its latest hurricane update.

But Rita weakened sharply as it approached land, with winds dropping to 125 miles per hour from peaks around 175 mph reached earlier in the week over the warm waters of the gulf. At least one private forecaster said he expected the storm to weaken further before making landfall.

"From what once was a super hurricane, this could turn into one of the biggest duds of all time," said Charlie Notis at Freese-Notis Weather, a private weather forecasting firm based in Iowa. Other forecasters said it could remain near its current strength when it reaches the coast.

BP said on Friday it was hoping for a quick restart of its Texas City refinery -- the third largest in the United States -- after Rita passes. Several other refiners have told state regulators they plan restarts early next week.

 

EMERGENCY RESERVES

U.S. crude prices have fallen well below the record near $71 hit in late August in Katrina's wake, pressured by the release of global reserves of emergency crude and a wave of products imports from Europe after Katrina.

The International Energy Agency said it could order another release of emergency crude, gasoline and heating oil reserves to help the hurricane-battered United States.

"We are on alert," IEA chief Claude Mandil told Reuters.

The Paris-based agency, which groups the world's industrialized nations, will meet on Saturday to assess damage wrought by Rita.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it was also ready to loan oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as it did after Katrina. But its resources to deal with a refined products shortage are limited.

"There isn't a shortage of crude. The problem is gasoline," said oil consultant Geoff Pynne.

Rita led oil companies to shut some 15 refineries on the Gulf Coast, adding to four that remained shut in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which hit in late August.

A United Nations weather expert said there could be a record number of ferocious storms over the Atlantic this year, fueled by a rise in sea temperatures. Rita is the 17th named storm so far, with two months of the hurricane season to go.

"The last time we had 21 named storms was in 1933," said Nanette Lombarda of the World Meteorological Organization.

More than 99 percent of offshore oil output, or 1.49 million bpd, is out of action in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said. More than 72 percent of gas output, or 7.2 billion cubic feet is also down.

Analysts warned that any damage to natural gas facilities could boost prices because reduced supplies would be far more difficult to replace than lost crude and could spur additional demand for heating oil and utility fuel oil.

The threat of supply disruption also hung over Nigeria where armed militants are targeting oil facilities to demand the release from jail of a militia leader.

U.S. oil company Chevron shut a second platform on Friday.

The militants have threatened to blow up pipelines and platforms in the world's eighth biggest crude exporter and a key supplier to the United States.

(Additional reporting by Janet McBride in London)

    Oil slides 3.5 percent as Rita weakens, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=businessNews&storyID=2005-09-23T230117Z_01_SCH226808_RTRUKOC_0_US-MARKETS-OIL.xml

 

 

 

 

 

All Gulf of Mexico crude output halted

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 3:29 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Essentially all Gulf of Mexico crude oil production and 30 percent of U.S. oil refinery production was shut as Hurricane Rita approached the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Oil prices dropped Friday afternoon as Rita was downgraded to a Category 3 at maximum sustained winds of 125 mph.

About 72 percent of natural gas production was shut in by Friday, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said.

The MMS said 99.1 percent of crude production was shut.

The storm has forced shut 15 big U.S. refineries, adding to the four that had remained shut after Hurricane Katrina hit land August 29.

With nearly 30 percent of U.S. refining operations closed, there are worries about fuel shortages and spiking pump prices.

At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), the center of Hurricane Rita was located about 190 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas and about 175 miles southeast of Port Arthur, Texas.

The NHC expects Rita to continue moving toward the northwest at 10 mph for the next 24 hours, which would put the core of Rita over the southwestern Louisiana and upper Texas coasts early Saturday.

The nation's biggest offshore oil port, the LOOP in Louisiana, was also forced to shut down its operations, which will curtail imports and offloading of domestic crude produced in the Gulf.

The New York Mercantile Exchange on Friday declared force majeure on September natural gas deliveries due to the closure of the Sabine Pipeline which operates the key Henry Hub delivery point in Erath, Louisiana.

    All Gulf of Mexico crude output halted, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=businessNews&storyID=2005-09-23T192933Z_01_MOR367504_RTRUKOC_0_US-ENERGY-HURRICANES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Rita Weakens a Bit,

but Coastal Surges Still Feared

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL and JENNIFER BAYOT

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 23 - As hundreds of thousands of people continued to seek refuge inland, Hurricane Rita further weakened this afternoon, becoming a still dangerous Category 3 storm, but its turbulent winds also widened their reach, lashing out with tropical storm-force winds as far as 205 miles from its churning center.

The National Hurricane Center said at 1 p.m. that although Rita had lost some of its earlier intensity, it was still a "dangerous hurricane" with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, and moving northwest at 10 miles an hour. Government meteorologists now expect it to make landfall in northeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana by tomorrow morning. They said the storm it could send tides surging 15 to 20 feet wherever it hits. Rainfalls up to 15 inches could beset coastal areas of Texas and western Louisiana.

The heavy rains will add to the problems of as many as 2.5 million people who jammed evacuation routes beginning Thursday, heeding days of dire warnings about Rita. Some people were still stuck on highways this morning, though vehicles were flowing much more freely near Houston. Mayor Bill White promised that no one would be left stranded on the highways when the hurricane arrived.

"We will make sure that will not happen," he said.

Yet the roads were proving deadly. With the storm still more than 200 miles from the Texas shore, the authorities there reported the first storm-related deaths: at least 20 elderly evacuees who died in a bus fire, and an elderly evacuee who died of dehydration in a traffic jam. A warning of tropical storm winds - 39 to 73 miles per hour - combined with a rainfall of three to five inches was also issued for the southeast coast of Louisiana by the National Hurricane Center. The area includes New Orleans, which is still struggling to recover from Katrina, which burst the levees that held back Lake Pontchartrain, releasing deadly floodwaters into the city.

The waters breached the city's industrial levy late this morning, submerging the Lower Ninth Ward. "It's a very bad situation for New Orleans," said Timothy J. Schott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Washington.

Total accumulations of more than 25 inches are possible across eastern Texas and western Louisiana over the next several days as the storm slows as it moves inland, the hurricane center said.

In Wilmer, Tex., just southeast of Dallas, a bus carrying 45 people from an assisted living center in Houston caught fire on a gridlocked highway and at least 24 people were killed, the Dallas Country Sheriff's office said today. The fire is believed to have been caused by mechanical problems, which led to the explosion of the patients' oxygen tanks.

Near Cleveland, Tex., an 82-year-old woman died of dehydration while stuck in traffic in the stifling heat, Mayor White of Houston said at a briefing this morning.

At the Beaumont Civic Center, about a dozen buses lined up on this overcast morning to take hundreds of stragglers six hours north, to Wichita Falls. Many were elderly African-Americans, worried about their medical conditions, carrying only a bag or two of belongings. One little girl arrived barefoot.

Frankie Roebuck, 82, was apprehensive about leaving with her 85-year-old husband, Leroy; they had been unsuccessful in getting him a new supply of oxygen before finally deciding to leave. "We just decided it was time to go," she said. "We thought we would ride this one out, like we did the rest of them.

Eric Williams, 37, also said he was trying to hold out, but then he saw everyone else leaving. "It was a ghost town, so I said, 'Let me get on,'" he said, carrying a single gym bag of clothes.

Did he know where he was going? "I don't know. I'm just taking a ride."

Landfall for Rita is expected Saturday morning somewhere on the northeast Texas and Louisiana border, but Mr. Schott warned against placing too much emphasis on the exact location.

"This is a huge storm and it will impact a huge area," he said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Port O'Connor, Tex., to Morgan City, La., and the high winds and heavy rains will emerge as Rita approaches the southwest Louisiana and upper Texas coasts late today or tonight, the hurricane center said.

Saying that the storm would be "a great test" for everyone involved, Texas's governor, Rick Perry, said at a news conference that the state was prepared because its people had taken the evacuation seriously.

"We're going to get through this," he said, adding that thousands of relief workers were on standby, that 54 Red Cross shelters were open, and that law enforcement would be in full force after the storm.

"Be calm, be strong," he urged his constituents, and "say a prayer for Texas."

President Bush was heading to Texas this afternoon to watch the storm preparations, particularly the interplay between the federal government and state and local officials. "I want to watch that happen," he said, adding that he would be at a military facility in Colorado Springs later, when the storm actually came ashore.

"We will make sure that my entourage does not get in the way of people doing their job, which will be search and rescue immediately," he said. "Rest assured, I understand that we must not and will not interfere with the important work that will be going forward."

At 1 p.m., the center of the storm was about 190 miles southeast of Galveston, Tex., moving northwest at about 10 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center said it expected that Rita, once of the strongest Category 5 storms on record, would continue to weaken as it neared the Texas-Louisiana border, but that it remained "dangerous hurricane."

The unending lines of vehicles heading out of Houston on Thursday were only one indication of how seriously people along the Gulf Coast regarded the threat of Hurricane Rita, particularly after the devastation and death caused less than a month ago by Hurricane Katrina.

As the day progressed Thursday the storm weakened slightly, from Category 5 to Category 4 status, as the maximum wind speed fell from 175 miles per hour to about 140. The hurricane also shifted course toward the north, which offered a glimmer of hope to the panicked Houston area but threatened further flooding in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

But officials warned that the storm still had the potential to cause widespread damage to Houston, and after witnessing what happened in New Orleans, few people here were willing to take their chances.

In Baton Rouge, La., Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called for the evacuation of a nearly half a million people in the southwest portion of her state.

"Head north, head north," she said. "You cannot go east, you cannot go west, head north. If you know the local roads that go north, take those."

Noting the difficulty medical examiners have had in identifying the dead from Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Blanco offered morbid advice to those who refuse to evacuate. "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms in indelible ink," she said.

The Houston area's two major air gateways, Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental, suffered major delays when more than 150 screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, facing their own evacuation concerns, did not show up for work. The agency later rushed in replacements, a spokeswoman said, but passengers, already burdening the system with extra luggage for their trips to safety, waited for hours to go through security.

While the storm is expected to hit the shore with as much strength as Hurricane Katrina did, forecasters added an additional concern Thursday, saying it was likely to stall inland for several days and disgorge enormous amounts of rain.

The storm is expected to wreak billions of dollars of property damage on the Texas coast, which is one of only a handful of states to have such high property values in coastal areas. Eqecat, a risk management firm based in Oakland, Calif., estimated today that insured losses would be between $9 billion to $18 billion, adding to a projected $14 billion to $22 billion in insured losses from Hurricane Katrina.Hurricane Katrina, while similar in intensity and size, did not cause inland flooding after hitting the Gulf Coast because it was swept out of the South by the jet stream, said Mr. Schott of the National Weather Service.

But the jet stream, a high-altitude, east-flowing river of air, has shifted to near the Great Lakes, Mr. Schott said, and so cannot be relied on to "scoop out" the swirling, Georgia-size mass of moisture and rain clouds that will be left behind this weekend as Hurricane Rita moves over East Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas.

"This is looming as a big problem," Mr. Schott said. "The storm could spend three days hanging around there" and could easily produce 10 inches or more of rain, enough to cause intense flooding.

Forecasters said the pinwheeling bands of thunderstorms radiating several hundred miles from the eye of the hurricane could produce up to five inches of rain in New Orleans, near the limit of what Army Corps of Engineers officials said the city's taxed pumps could handle.

Governor Blanco of Louisiana appealed for 30,000 more Army and National Guard troops to respond to Hurricane Rita. Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, director of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, said he would forward to request for to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

Ralph Blumenthal reported from Houston for this article and Terence Neilan from New York. Reporting was contributed by Rick Lyman, Maureen Balleza and Christie Taylor in Houston; Margaret Toal in Orange, Tex.; Laura Griffin in Dallas; William Yardley in Baton Rouge, La.; Timothy Williams in Beaumont; Terence Neilan and Andrew C. Revkin in New York, and Eric Lipton in Washington.

    Hurricane Rita Weakens a Bit, but Coastal Surges Still Feared, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Raises Fears

on Weak New Orleans Levees

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times
By JERE LONGMAN and MICHAEL BRICK

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 22 - As the outer bands of Hurricane Rita raked past with gusty winds and showers, water began seeping into the shattered and empty Lower Ninth Ward through makeshift dike repairs on Thursday, and the Army Corps of Engineers expressed concern about just how reliably a weakened levee system could protect this devastated city against a tidal surge along Lake Pontchartrain.

Little more than 24 days after Hurricane Katrina killed at least 832 people in Louisiana, Hurricane Rita was expected to scour New Orleans with winds that could reach tropical force as it headed toward landfall near the Louisiana-Texas border.

At the least, two to four inches of floodwater are expected here in a city that sits largely below sea level, Mayor C. Ray Nagin said on Thursday, adding that he had been reassured by the corps that the city's mended levee system could withstand an expected storm surge of three to five feet.

"If it's any higher than that, then you can have water pushed into the city," Mayor Nagin said at a news conference. "Then the pumping capacity becomes really challenged."

Five thousand troops from the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne Division are preparing to secure New Orleans against another storm, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has called for an additional 30,000 soldiers. Mayor Nagin said he was watching weather reports with a kind of paranoia now that Hurricane Rita had made a turn that could take it farther east than previously expected.

City employees, once upbeat about the rebuilding process in a city that still lacks drinking water and has only limited electricity, have grown anxious about the prospect of being hit by even the periphery of a second powerful storm, the mayor said.

"People are struggling with the fact, 'Why such powerful storms back to back?' " Mayor Nagin said. "We're talking to people and trying to get them to focus on the task at hand. Maybe we'll be spared this time."

In the Lower Ninth Ward, where two gaping breaches in the Industrial Canal levee submerged and splintered one of the poorest sections of the city, four to eight inches of water began seeping back into some abandoned and destroyed neighborhoods by noon on Thursday. Small waterfalls of leakage could be seen several feet below the top of the repaired levee as wind pushed rising water from Lake Pontchartrain through the Industrial Canal.

This was to be expected, said Chad Rachel, a civil engineer with the corps, after an inspection of the repaired breaches. There did not appear to be any erosion of the compacted clay base of the patched dike, he said, adding that he felt certain the large, interlocking stones atop the base would be able to withstand the expected storm surge.

"We don't expect any problem with a catastrophic breach," Mr. Rachel said.

By dusk, however, water had continued to rise, and Maj. Barry Guidry of the Army offered a direr assessment after examining the leaking at the Industrial Canal. "The levee's going to cave in," Major Guidry said. "In the middle of the night, this thing is going to be gone."

Even if heavy flooding did happen again in the Lower Ninth Ward, this might serve as a kind of safety valve that could prevent water from submerging more inhabitable parts of the city, police officials said.

"This is a graveyard already," said Sgt. Bryan Lampard of the New Orleans police, who was in the Lower Ninth Ward searching for bodies or the rare possibility of a survivor. "This area is not coming back anytime soon."

Houses were shoved off their foundations and splintered in this ruined section of the city. Cars were turned upside-down. The damage resembled that on the Mississippi Coast more than it did many other parts of New Orleans. About the only thing salvageable from most of these houses was a hammer, said Eric Baum, a spokesman for a federal search-and-rescue team from Miami.

Rescuers left the area as the water continued to seep in but said they had nearly completed their search for bodies. Only about 20 were recovered in the Lower Ninth Ward, said Capt. Tim Bayard, who is in charge of the recovery effort for the New Orleans police. This suggested, Mayor Nagin said, that the death toll from Hurricane Katrina, once predicted to be in the thousands, now seemed to be "much lower than anyone imagined, which I'm thankful for."

At the breached 17th Street Canal, which flooded the Lakeview section of New Orleans, a crew from the Army Corps of Engineers finished shoring up sandbags and metal pilings that jutted above the side of the levee like rusty dominoes. The levee was no longer leaking, but a direct hit by even a greatly diminished Hurricane Rita, or storm surges of more than 10 or 12 feet from Lake Pontchartrain could wash out the makeshift plugs, said Robert Foret, a quality assurance officer with the corps.

"We have saturated levees right now, so this is all guesswork," Mr. Foret said.

The plugging of breaches in the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal to protect against a storm surge has required a tradeoff, Mayor Nagin said. Water might be kept from coming into the city, he said, but it will be more difficult to force out from the midtown area because the improvised repairs have left three of the city's most powerful pumps unavailable, he said.

"Everybody's on pins and needles right now," Mr. Foret said.

Ten buses were available near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to take residents out of the nearly empty east bank of New Orleans, but only one or two people decided to evacuate what is essentially a ghost town on Wednesday, Mayor Nagin said.

He cautioned that Hurricane Rita was a dangerous storm, and although New Orleans did not figure to bear the brunt of the hurricane, the city could not let its guard down.

If the storm made a significant turn eastward, Mayor Nagin said, "we have a whole other ballgame."

    Storm Raises Fears on Weak New Orleans Levees, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Rita downgraded to Category 3 storm

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 2:03 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita weakened to a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Friday.

    Rita downgraded to Category 3 storm, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-23T180252Z_01_BAU364785_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-ADVISORY.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Texas warns of catastrophe

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:53 PM ET
Reuters
By Mark Babineck and Jeff Franks

 

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texas officials warned of a catastrophe and water spilled over levees to flood parts of New Orleans anew on Friday as Hurricane Rita barreled toward the U.S. Gulf Coast with winds reaching 135 mph (217 kph).

The unprecedented mass evacuation of the region turned deadly when a bus carrying elderly evacuees fleeing the hurricane along a major escape route south of Dallas burst into flames and killed an estimated 24 people.

"Be calm, be strong, say a prayer for Texas," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in the state capital of Austin.

Rita was expected to make landfall early on Saturday near the Texas and Louisiana border, the National Hurricane Center said. It said the Category 4 storm may weaken to a Category 3 by landfall, but would still come ashore as a major hurricane.

In New Orleans, water spilled over a freshly patched levee into a hard-hit neighborhood as Rita's outer edge dumped rain on a city left nearly deserted after Hurricane Katrina's devastation last month. Rising winds shook light buildings as far away as Baton Rouge and tornado warnings were in effect for parts of Louisiana.

In Texas, the storm would cause a "catastrophic flood" likely to inundate the city of Port Arthur under an 18- to 22-foot (6- to 7- meter) storm surge, said Jack Colley, the director of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. It would affect 5.2 million Texans, destroy 6,000 homes and have an initial economic impact of $8.2 billion, he said.

He predicted 16 hours of hurricane-force winds where the storm hits, as well as an onslaught of medium-sized tornadoes.

The bus accident turned a historic evacuation already delayed by endless traffic jams into a nightmare. It caught fire in the early morning darkness on Interstate 45 south of Dallas and closed the highway. The vehicle's charred hulk blocked lanes, with a long string traffic stuck behind it.

The bus was carrying elderly and infirm evacuees from South Texas, said Sgt. Don Peritz of the Dallas County Sheriff's Dept. About 15 people were removed before the bus became engulfed in flames and an estimated 24 people did not make it off.

Oxygen tanks used by many passengers exploded as the fire spread in multiple blasts, lighting the morning sky near a southern suburb of Dallas.

"It's obviously a horrific event. The whole city is very upset about this. We've handled two waves of evacuees now. We've never had anything this horrible happen, so it's really a tragedy," Dallas Mayor Laura Miller told CNN.

 

HISTORIC EVACUATION

As authorities struggled to complete one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history in the final hours before Rita's landfall, the problems underscored that despite years of planning for a major emergency after September 11, 2001, attacks, a fast evacuation of a large urban area cannot be ensured.

More than 2 million people were leaving the Gulf coastal areas and Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city with a metropolitan population of 4 million, was deserted, with stores closed, roads emptied and few people on the streets.

People trying to escape Houston crowded inland-bound highways and sat for hours in enormous traffic jams on Thursday and struggled to find gasoline. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc. said its stations in the area had run out of fuel.

People who had not left by midday Friday were advised to stay in their homes.

"Those people at risk should not get on the highways to evacuate. People should prepare to shelter in place if they have not evacuated." Houston Mayor Bill White said.

As of 11 a.m EDT (1500 GMT), Rita's center was about 220 miles southeast of Galveston and about 210 miles (338 km) southeast of Port Arthur. With hurricane-force winds extending 85 miles from its eye, the storm was moving northwest near 10 mph (16 kph) toward the southwest Louisiana and upper Texas coasts.

The storm could bring a storm surge of 20 feet and up to 20 inches of rain in spots, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane warning was in effect along a 450-mile (724 km) stretch from Port O'Connor, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

 

HEAD NORTH

In Louisiana, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Kathleen Blanco pleaded with residents in low-lying coastal communities to head north. She recorded an automated telephone message, sent to more than 400,000 households, saying: "Hurricane Rita is heading your way."

Katrina killed at least 1,069 people and displaced as many as 1 million.

President George W. Bush, criticized for a slow federal response to Katrina, planned to visit Texas on Friday to view the emergency preparations.

Rita threatened the region's massive oil industry, which was still recovering from Katrina.

The amount of U.S. petroleum product production offline due to refineries shut down because of approaching Hurricane Rita total about 2.2 million barrels per day for gasoline, 1.2 million bpd for distillate fuel and 600,000 bpd for jet fuel, according to the Energy Information Administration.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in Houston, Bernie Woodall in New York and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge, Andy Sullivan in New Orleans)

    Texas warns of catastrophe, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-23T175155Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rita waters flood New Orleans

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:42 PM ET
Reuters
By Andy Sullivan

 

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Fast-rising water brought by the outer edge of Hurricane Rita spilled over a freshly patched levee in New Orleans on Friday and flooded a deserted neighborhood of the already devastated city.

Water from the industrial canal, where the levee breached during Hurricane Katrina more than three weeks ago, was submerging houses in the particularly hard-hit Ninth Ward section on the city's east side.

Water also poured out from under the canal's western barrier, which faces the historic French Quarter roughly three miles away.

An official with the New Orleans Fire Department said flooding reached a mile inland west of the canal. It also reached as far north as Interstate 10, which divides the city.

The area had been nearly dried out in recent days.

Residents have not been permitted to return since Katrina hit the ward, where nearly all the small, one-story houses appeared damaged beyond repair.

Searches by rescue teams, who have been going door to door seeking storm victims, were suspended.

Water had begun to seep under the weakened levee late on Thursday, but officials said they did not expect flooding on such a scale so soon.

"It's frustrating, but there ain't nothing you can do about Mother Nature," said Henry Rodriguez, president of nearby St. Bernard Parish, also heavily hit by Katrina on August 29.

He said he had driven through the area and saw floodwaters reaching 10 blocks from the levee.

"We were hoping this wouldn't happen, but with Rita knocking at our door, we're stuck with this," said Mark Heimann, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He said he was not aware of any levee breaches elsewhere in the city, emptied of most of its 450,000 residents by Katrina.

    Rita waters flood New Orleans, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-23T174157Z_01_SPI353372_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-LEVEES.xml

 

 

 

 

 

After Katrina flop,

Bush polishes up Rita response

 

Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:48 PM ET
Reuters
By Alan Elsner

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - This time, President George W. Bush is determined to get it right.

Harshly criticized for his slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush didn't wait for Hurricane Rita to hit before flying to the affected region.

After visiting Texas on Friday to get a first-hand look at emergency preparations, Bush planned to ride out the storm at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the White House said he would personally oversee the federal government response.

"The president is doing the right thing to assure people that the federal government is much better prepared for Rita than it was for Katrina," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"But everything that a president in trouble does is also at least partly political and designed to stop his slide in the polls," he said.

Bush's approval ratings have plummeted to all-time lows in recent polls. Most put his favorability at around 38 to 41 percent and his image as a strong and decisive leader has taken a serious hit.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Thursday angrily dismissed the suggestion that Bush's trip to Texas was mainly a photo opportunity.

"The president wants to go in there and be able to thank all those first responders as they're gearing up for the challenges that will be coming shortly thereafter," he said.

"That's why we're going there first for a short amount of time and then going on to Colorado and that will also give him a chance to see firsthand some of the preparations that are under way on the ground."

Although the evacuation from Houston ahead of Rita has so far been chaotic, with clogged roads and empty gas stations, disaster management experts said the response this time was likely to mark a significant improvement over Katrina. Tens of thousands of people were then stranded in a flooded New Orleans without food and water, and law and order broke down.

 

'GAPING POLITICAL WOUNDS'

"Given the president's gaping political wounds from Katrina, you're seeing the federal government weighing in with overwhelming force and supplies. The system is energized this time," said Craig Marks, who runs Blue Horizons, a consultancy on disaster management in North Carolina.

Pollster John Zogby said Bush's presence in Texas could help psychologically by assuring people that the government had learned the lessons from the Katrina debacle.

But Zogby said even a much improved performance this time would not help Bush much politically.

"American public opinion has hardened," he said. "Barring unforeseen circumstances, I don't think Bush's approval rating will ever see 50 percent again. We have a winter of discontent with high gasoline and heating oil prices ahead and we still have the war in Iraq."

The growing U.S. military death toll, failure to halt the insurgency and the mounting financial costs had already undermined support for the president and his policies.

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo said Bush faced a widening credibility gap with a growing number of Americans that began with the Iraq war.

"Once there is that crack in your credibility, it is enormously hard to seal. Almost everything that happens begins to accentuate it," the Colorado lawmaker said.

"There is a sense that there's blood in the water and when that happens around here, the piranhas come rushing," Tancredo said in an interview on Thursday.

But Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee said Bush could recoup if the administration handled the long-term recovery from both hurricanes successfully.

    After Katrina flop, Bush polishes up Rita response, R, 23.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=politicsNews&storyID=2005-09-23T174718Z_01_EIC359326_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-BUSH-POLITICS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Carrying Elderly Storm Evacuees

Explodes Near Dallas

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times
By RICK LYMAN and VIKAS BAJAJ

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 23 - A bus carrying elderly evacuees from an assisted living center in Houston exploded into flames on its way to Dallas early this morning, killing at least 20 people, according to the Dallas County sheriff's office. The county medical examiner's office said the death toll could be as high as 24 and the number might change throughout the day.

The bus was carrying 44 people - 38 residents and 6 staff members - from Brighton Gardens of Bellaire, an assisted living center in Bellaire, a suburb southwest of Houston, when it caught fire on Interstate 45, the main highway connecting Dallas and Houston. The explosion occurred near Hutchins, a suburb about 13 miles from downtown Dallas.

Witnesses talking to local TV reporters said there was smoke coming out of the bus which was pulled over to the side of the road before it exploded at 7 a.m. Central time. Traffic behind the bus stopped immediately and was backed up 17 miles within 10 minutes and more than 20 miles shortly thereafter. People jumped out of their cars and tried to get into the bus, breaking through the windows, to get the people out. According to reports, at least 14 people did get out of the bus alive, though injured.

About a dozen people were taken to Dallas areas hospitals and nine of those had arrived at Parkland Hospital as of 9 a.m. local time, said Melissa Turner, a spokeswoman for the county-run hospital.

"From what we understand the worse injury is smoke inhalation," Ms. Turner said. "We are awaiting our next update."

The bus appears to have caught fire because of mechanical problems and the situation might have been made worse when patients' oxygen tanks started exploding, Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Dallas County sheriff told The Associated Press. The driver appears to have survived.

"It's my understanding he went back on the bus several times to try to evacuate people," Mr. Peritz said.

Images of the flaming bus were broadcast on live local television and picked up on national cable news channels. By 8 a.m., police were diverting traffic off Interstate 45 and around the accident scene, but the backup was still severe.

In Houston, city officials defended their decision to encourage residents of the nation's fourth-largest city to evacuate. Mayor Bill White insisted that a mandatory evacuation order applied only to low-lying areas and not the city as a whole.

As they did Thursday night, the mayor and other officials told people living in the "voluntary evacuation" area, which includes most of metropolitan Houston, to stay off the highways and at home - that it was too late to try to escape the storm and their safest bet was to hunker down at home.

The elderly, especially those that need constant medical supervision are often at the greatest risk of death and serious injury during hurried evacuations, according to health experts. This morning the average temperature in Dallas and Houston was 81 degrees and was expected to rise to a high of 90 degrees.

Rick Lyman reported from Houston and Vikas Bajaj reported from New York for this article.

    Bus Carrying Elderly Storm Evacuees Explodes Near Dallas, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23cnd-bus.html

 

 

 

 

 


As Texans Flee Rita,

Forecasters Warn of Coastal Surges

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL and JENNIFER BAYOT

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 23 - Hurricane Rita widened its reach this morning, lashing out with tropical storm-force winds as far as 205 miles from its churning center. Forecasters warned that the tide could surge 15 to 20 feet along the coasts where the storm made landfall, and rainfalls up to 15 inches could beset coastal areas of Texas and western Louisiana.

The heavy rains will add to the problems of as many as 2.5 million people who jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, heeding days of dire warnings about Rita. Some people were still stuck on highways this morning, though vehicles were flowing much more freely near Houston. Mayor Bill White promised that no one would be left stranded on the highways when the hurricane arrived.

"We will make sure that will not happen," he said.

Yet the roads were proving deadly. With the storm still more than 200 miles from the Texas shore, the authorities there reported the first storm-related deaths: at least 20 elderly evacuees who died in a bus fire, and an elderly evacuee who died of dehydration in a traffic jam. A warning of tropical storm winds - 39 to 73 miles per hour - combined with a rainfall of three to five inches was also issued for the southeast coast of Louisiana by the National Hurricane Center. The area includes New Orleans, which is still struggling to recover from Katrina, which burst the levees that held back Lake Pontchartrain, releasing deadly floodwaters into the city.

The rising waters breached the city's industrial levee late this morning, submerging the Lower Ninth Ward. "It's a very bad situation for New Orleans," said Timothy J. Schott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Washington.

Total accumulations of more than 25 inches are possible across eastern Texas and western Louisiana over the next several days as the storm slows as it moves inland, the hurricane center said.

In Wilmer, Tex., just southeast of Dallas, a bus carrying 43 patients from an assisted living center in Houston caught fire on a gridlocked highway and at least 20 people were killed, the Dallas Country Sheriff's office said today. The fire is believed to have been caused by mechanical problems, which led to the explosion of the patients' oxygen tanks.

Near Cleveland, Tex., an 82-year-old woman died of dehydration while stuck in traffic in the stifling heat, Mayor White of Houston said at a briefing this morning.

At the Beaumont Civic Center, about a dozen buses lined up on this overcast morning to take hundreds of stragglers six hours north, to Wichita Falls. Many were elderly African-Americans, worried about their medical conditions, carrying only a bag or two of belongings. One little girl arrived barefoot.

Frankie Roebuck, 82, was apprehensive about leaving with her 85-year-old husband, Leroy; they had been unsuccessful in getting him a new supply of oxygen before finally deciding to leave. "We just decided it was time to go," she said. "We thought we would ride this one out, like we did the rest of them.

Eric Williams, 37, also said he was trying to hold out, but then he saw everyone else leaving. "It was a ghost town, so I said, 'Let me get on,'" he said, carrying a single gym bag of clothes.

Did he know where he was going? "I don't know. I'm just taking a ride."

Landfall for Rita is expected Saturday morning somewhere on the northeast Texas and Louisiana border, but Mr. Schott warned against placing too much emphasis on the exact location.

"This is a huge storm and it will impact a huge area," he said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Port O'Connor, Tex., to Morgan City, La., and the high winds and heavy rains will emerge as Rita approaches the southwest Louisiana and upper Texas coasts late today or tonight, the hurricane center said.

President Bush planned to head to Texas this afternoon, in an effort to make it clear that he is in charge of the federal effort to cope with the storm.

At 7 a.m. Eastern time today, the center of the storm was about 260 miles southeast of Galveston, Tex., and about 220 miles south-southeast of Cameron, La., moving to the northwest at close to nine miles per hour.

The unending lines of vehicles heading out of Houston on Thursday were only one indication of how seriously people along the Gulf Coast regarded the threat of Hurricane Rita, particularly after the devastation and death caused less than a month ago by Hurricane Katrina.

As the day progressed Thursday the storm weakened slightly, from Category 5 to Category 4 status, as the maximum wind speed fell from 175 miles per hour to about 140. The hurricane also shifted course toward the north, which offered a glimmer of hope to the panicked Houston area but threatened further flooding in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

But officials warned that the storm still had the potential to cause widespread damage to Houston, and after witnessing what happened in New Orleans, few people here were willing to take their chances.

In Baton Rouge, La., Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called for the evacuation of a nearly half a million people in the southwest portion of her state.

"Head north, head north," she said. "You cannot go east, you cannot go west, head north. If you know the local roads that go north, take those."

Noting the difficulty medical examiners have had in identifying the dead from Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Blanco offered morbid advice to those who refuse to evacuate. "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms in indelible ink," she said.

The Houston area's two major air gateways, Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental, suffered major delays when more than 150 screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, facing their own evacuation concerns, did not show up for work. The agency later rushed in replacements, a spokeswoman said, but passengers, already burdening the system with extra luggage for their trips to safety, waited for hours to go through security.

While the storm is expected to hit the shore with as much strength as Hurricane Katrina did, forecasters added an additional concern Thursday, saying it was likely to stall inland for several days and disgorge enormous amounts of rain.

Hurricane Katrina, while similar in intensity and size, did not cause inland flooding after hitting the Gulf Coast because it was swept out of the South by the jet stream, said Mr. Schott of the National Weather Service.

But the jet stream, a high-altitude, east-flowing river of air, has shifted to near the Great Lakes, Mr. Schott said, and so cannot be relied on to "scoop out" the swirling, Georgia-size mass of moisture and rain clouds that will be left behind this weekend as Hurricane Rita moves over East Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas.

"This is looming as a big problem," Mr. Schott said. "The storm could spend three days hanging around there" and could easily produce 10 inches or more of rain, enough to cause intense flooding.

Forecasters said the pinwheeling bands of thunderstorms radiating several hundred miles from the eye of the hurricane could produce up to five inches of rain in New Orleans, near the limit of what Army Corps of Engineers officials said the city's taxed pumps could handle.

Governor Blanco of Louisiana appealed for 30,000 more Army and National Guard troops to respond to Hurricane Rita. Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, director of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, said he would forward to request for to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

Ralph Blumenthal reported from Houston for this article and Terence Neilan from New York. Reporting was contributed by Rick Lyman, Maureen Balleza and Christie Taylor in Houston; Margaret Toal in Orange, Tex.; Laura Griffin in Dallas; William Yardley in Baton Rouge, La.; Timothy Williams in Beaumont; Terence Neilan and Andrew C. Revkin in New York, and Eric Lipton in Washington.

    As Texans Flee Rita, Forecasters Warn of Coastal Surges, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Water Pours Over Levee,

Flooding Dozens of Blocks

in New Orleans

 

September 23, 2005
Reuters
By JERE LONGMAN and MICHAEL BRICK

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 23 - Rain from Hurricane Rita sent water running over the top of a patched levee into one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods of the city this morning, quickly submerging cars and flooding empty homes wrested from their foundations.

The water rose so quickly that it had reached windows of houses up to three blocks east of the levy by late morning.

The breaches confirmed the city's fears - that its weakened levee system could not protect it against a tidal surge along Lake Pontchartrain. Hurricane Katrina had caused breaks in the levee when it hit 24 days ago.

But since then the low-lying area has been evacuated, and Dave Wheeler, operations chief of FEMA's urban search and rescue team in New Orleans, said that 95 to 98 percent of the Lower Ninth Ward had been checked for survivors and cleared.

"It's already been destroyed," he said. "It's a good thing virtually all of New Orleans is empty. Hopefully there's a minimal chance that anyone will be stranded." Many of the houses in the area had already been declared uninhabitable and slated for demolition.

On the west side of the industrial canal, in the Ninth Ward, water appeared to be seeping through the bottom of a levy gate, and FEMA officials said they were concerned about it compromising a power grid.

The Army Corps of Engineers said that water was running over the part of the levy previously breached during Hurricane Katrina. It said a team was on site working to repair it.

To the east of New Orleans, the devastated St. Bernard Parish expressed concerns that the overflowing water would add two feet of flooding to a parish that had finally dried out after Hurricane Katrina.

Henry J. Rodriguez Jr., the parish president, said it would take another two weeks to drain that much water. "It's going to really push back our recovery and reentry efforts," he said.

At the least, two to four inches of floodwater are expected here in a city that sits largely below sea level, Mayor C. Ray Nagin said on Thursday, adding that he had been reassured by the corps that the city's mended levee system could withstand an expected storm surge of three to five feet.

"If it's any higher than that, then you can have water pushed into the city," Mayor Nagin said at a news conference. "Then the pumping capacity becomes really challenged."

Five thousand troops from the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne Division are preparing to secure New Orleans against another storm, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has called for an additional 30,000 soldiers. Mayor Nagin said he was watching weather reports with a kind of paranoia now that Hurricane Rita had made a turn that could take it farther east than previously expected.

City employees, once upbeat about the rebuilding process in a city that still lacks drinking water and has only limited electricity, have grown anxious about the prospect of being hit by even the periphery of a second powerful storm, the mayor said.

"People are struggling with the fact, 'Why such powerful storms back to back?' " Mayor Nagin said. "We're talking to people and trying to get them to focus on the task at hand. Maybe we'll be spared this time."

    Water Pours Over Levee, Flooding Dozens of Blocks in New Orleans, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23cnd-orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 


With Faith and Hope,

Some Stay Put in Galveston

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times

By SIMON ROMERO

 

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 22 - Downtown avenues lined with magnificent Victorian buildings in this city were empty on Thursday. Entire neighborhoods of windblown bungalows were boarded up. But the Hard Times and Misery Saloon, at the corner of 43rd and S Streets, was full.

"I'll fend off the looters with my Ka-Bar," said Richard Deore, 57, a meatcutter at a Kroger's supermarket, describing the lethal potential of the combat knife used by the Marine Corps. Nursing a Budweiser at 11 a.m., Mr. Deore said he had no desire to flee Galveston, even as Hurricane Rita placed the city in its crosshairs.

"I'm going to go rat hunting when this is over," Mr. Deore said, explaining how in past hurricanes the storm surge pushed rats out of their hiding places in the rocks along the sea wall.

Galveston is no stranger to huge storms. At least 6,000 people died in the storm of 1900, when funeral pyres of unclaimed bodies burned for weeks. Aristocrats sipped Champagne in the ballroom of the Hotel Galvez during the storm of 1915, when eight people died. Martial law was declared here in 1961, when Hurricane Carla left 42 people dead.

So, despite the images of the destruction and death brought on by Hurricane Katrina and an evacuation ordered by Galveston's mayor, it might come as little surprise that some storm-weary people here are staying put. Most of Galveston's 60,000 residents have fled, but dozens - perhaps even a hundred or more - remain.

"This is God working, man," said Robert Shumake, 50, whose car broke down on the interstate Wednesday night as he and his sister and nephew tried to leave the city. Mr. Shumake, a former cook, said he returned to Galveston after repairing his vehicle.

On Thursday, Mr. Shumake and his nephew, Russell Cavender, 17, walked along the sea wall holding an American flag and another flag saying, "We Support Our Troops." Mr. Shumake, a stout man with a bushy goatee and a ponytail, said: "The Lord doesn't want us going. He wants me carrying this flag."

There were other scattered holdouts. Walking along the sea wall on Thursday morning, a surfer, John Benson, said the waves in the Gulf of Mexico were six to eight feet tall, two to three feet higher than normal in Galveston. With a nine-foot purple surfboard in hand, he said he expected the storm would generate 15- to 17-foot waves.

"This is a freebie right here courtesy of Rita," said Mr. Benson, 47, a Galveston native.

Mr. Benson said the allure of the waves and television images of gridlocked traffic on Interstate 45 would keep him here through the storm.

Some said it would be foolhardy to leave, given the possibility of crime or looting in the wake of the storm. Bob Faris, the owner of Bob's Grocery, perhaps the only food store left open in the city, said he had worked too hard over the preceding years to leave his establishment.

"I checked with the Sheriff's Department to see if I could use my gun, and they said if I do, make sure he's dead," said Mr. Faris, 48, brandishing a 9-millimeter pistol, as customers filed into the store to buy frozen pizzas, beer and beef jerky. "I'm not leaving anything to chance. We saw what happened in New Orleans."

In a neighborhood near the shoreline, some residents said that police officers and city officials were seeking refuge in the luxurious San Luis Hotel, securely built above a 15-foot bunker across from the sea wall.

Most of the hotel staff has gone, leaving the officials with few amenities as they set up operations.

"One police officer drove up to me and told me, 'You're going to die!' pointing his big finger at me," said Juanita Levine, 58, a retired nurse, who decided to ride out the storm with her sister, Mary Allen, 61. "I told him I was staying right here, not running to some big expensive hotel. I have faith in God."

Back at the Hard Times and Misery Saloon, regulars philosophized over $1.75 beers ($1.50 during happy hour). Some were B.O.I.'s, shorthand in Galveston for those born on the island. Others were I.B.C.'s, islanders by choice. With one exception, none had any apprehensions about staying. Only Franklin Courtright, 53, a home remodeler and B.O.I., said he might leave by Friday morning.

"I'm on the fence," said Mr. Courtright, whose nickname is Butch. "I'm paying attention to this one."

Seated at Mr. Courtright's side, Sonny Blumrick, a retired auto parts specialist, described Mr. Courtright as the coward of the bunch. "This is a waiting game," Mr. Blumrick said. "Just wait and see, wait and see."

The saloon was not the only place in Galveston where those who stayed were contemplating a quick escape or painful associations with New Orleans. At the Poop Deck, a local hangout overlooking the Gulf, Dennis Christian was sweeping out the bed of a pickup truck and moving Cokes inside late Thursday morning. He said he was waiting for I-45 to clear before leaving Galveston.

"We had a good time last night, but we're not going to be the last idiots to leave down here," Mr. Christian said. "We're going to be the next to last."

Choking back tears, Mr. Christian said his brother, who lived just outside New Orleans, fell victim to Hurricane Katrina. "I done seen my brother in a body bag, and I don't want to be in one," he said. "Katrina got him being stupid like me."

"It's either get out of here or get packed in a body bag."

Thayer Evans contributed reporting for this article.

    With Faith and Hope, Some Stay Put in Galveston, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23holdouts.html?hp&ex=1127534400&en=5237e467ec77cf69&ei=5094&partner=homepage

 

 

 

 

 

Houston, You Have a Problem

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times

By VIKAS BAJAJ and CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH

 

Facing a potentially devastating hit from Hurricane Rita, the Houston-area economy ground to a halt yesterday as more than four million residents evacuated the city and other nearby coastal areas on clogged highways, which were made worse by motorists stranded as gasoline ran short.

From Corpus Christi in the south to Port Arthur on the Louisiana border, businesses along the Texas coast - including everything from large oil refineries and chemical plants to United Parcel Service and Wal-Mart - suspended most operations.

Standing squarely at the heart of the region, Houston, the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area, accounts for roughly 2 percent of annual economic output, or about $250 billion, according to Economy.com, a research firm. That is much larger than the $50 billion in output attributed to New Orleans and $10 billion from Gulfport.

Depending on how severe it is when it makes landfall, Hurricane Rita could deliver an even greater temporary blow to economic activity than Katrina, largely because of the greater scale of the local economy and the considerably bigger concentration of energy facilities in Texas than in Louisiana and Mississippi.

A major disruption to the nation's strained oil refining and distribution network - which some experts said could last for weeks - could send gasoline and other fuel prices soaring.

The hurricane could also wreak significant environmental havoc, because the Texas coast is dotted with large petrochemical plants that store large quantities of dangerous chemicals.

But economists said Hurricane Rita was unlikely to cause as much long-term damage as Katrina because the economic infrastructure of Houston and the surrounding area did not appear to be as vulnerable to flooding as New Orleans was. "It's hard to envision a scenario," said Mark Zandi, Economy.com's chief economist, "where Houston is impacted anywhere near as much as New Orleans."

The normally busy downtown areas of Houston were largely deserted yesterday after businesses heeded Mayor Bill White's request to send nonessential workers home on Wednesday. Stores at the sprawling Galleria Shopping Center were closed and were expected to stay that way through the weekend. A few hotels, like the Westin, Hyatt and Doubletree, said they would remain open.

"Today, it's a ghost town," said Brett Perlman, a consultant and a former Texas state utility regulator. "The entire city is on the road headed out of town. It's a mess."

Despite weakening to Category 4, the storm was still packing winds of 145 miles per hour and appeared headed toward eastern Texas and western Louisiana. The area is thick with refineries and other chemical plants. Many went into a heightened state of alert Wednesday and spent most of yesterday shutting facilities and evacuating workers.

Dow Chemical, which is just now getting its big plant in St. Charles, La., back up to speed, had already shut six Texas plants by yesterday afternoon; Dow expects that by dawn today its huge complex in Freeport, the largest chemical production facility it runs anywhere in the world, will be dark as well.

"We are shutting things down sooner than we did with Katrina, but that's mainly because local authorities are insisting on it," said Chris R. Huntley, a Dow spokesman. "But otherwise, Katrina proved we had the right procedures in place."

With memories of Katrina still fresh, the petrochemical and energy industries were not alone in preparing for the hurricane.

As of yesterday afternoon, some 60 Wal-Mart facilities, including distribution centers and stores, had closed. Wal-Mart has moved even earlier than before Katrina to be ready. Before shutting down two huge distribution centers in Baytown, about 25 miles outside of Houston, workers scrambled to dispatch some 160 truckloads to other facilities away from the storm's path.

Another 45 to 50 trucks filled with disaster-relief items left the distribution centers to locations along the Gulf Coast, according to John Bisio, regional director for community affairs at the company.

United Parcel Service, which lost a significant number of packages when some 22 buildings were damaged during Katrina, is less worried this time about moving packages right after the storm and more about keeping them safe, along with its trucks and employees. It has already suspended shipments to the area.

But the chemical industry may have the most at stake. About 70 percent of the nation's capacity for making ethylene, which forms the building block for products as varied as shirts, plastic wrap and appliance housing, lies in the storm's path.

BASF, which had no damage from Katrina, has evacuated eight plants in Texas, including its huge chemical plant in Freeport and a naphtha cracker in Port Arthur that it just installed in 2002.

Bayer produces a large portion of its polycarbonates, polyurethanes and other chemicals in Baytown; it shut that plant and evacuated all but a skeleton crew by yesterday.

But while most in the industry expect some lost production and sales, few expect lasting devastation. Flooding is certainly possible but the topography of the area is different from southern Louisiana and most of the companies say they have long had adequate plans in place for preventing toxic leaks, for protecting equipment, and for getting employees and products out of harm's way.

"Anyone who invested in these areas has designed their plants for hurricanes, and we have a detailed plan for protecting the plants and moving the materials and people," Klaus Peter Löbbe, BASF's chairman, said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it has 8 to 10 officials standing by in Dallas and 2 in Austin ready to move into stricken areas as soon as the storm passes. Up to 10 more officials were making their way to Dallas, said Sam Coleman, who is heading the agency's response to the hurricanes.

Mr. Coleman said the agency's response to Katrina had been swift and thorough. But a Sierra Club official said the E.P.A. had been slow to visit Superfund sites in New Orleans and disclose its findings to the public.The Texas coast "is a far more industrial area than New Orleans," said Ed Hopkins, the Sierra Club's director for environmental quality programs. "The big concern is the potential for a catastrophic release of an extremely hazardous chemical from a tank. Thankfully, people seem to be evacuating from the area."

Energy companies, which still have not completely recovered from Katrina, closed as many as 15 refineries in Texas and Louisiana, accounting for about 23 percent of the nation's capacity.

By comparison, Katrina initially shut down 10 percent of the nation's refining capacity in Louisiana and Mississippi, and about half of that is still out of service. Oil companies also evacuated nearly all their production platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We knew that things were getting fairly stretched and there was exposure to potentially even small shocks," said Paul Horsnell, director of energy research at Barclays Capital in London. "But that is not a small shock; it's an absolute, monstrous hurricane."

The energy industry could conceivably bounce back faster this time because it evacuated facilities in a more orderly fashion and across a larger area than with Katrina. Moreover, said Dan Pickering, president of Pickering Energy Partners of Houston, the Texas and northwest Louisiana refineries are clumped in several clusters that are dozens of miles from each other, so if one area gets walloped the others may escape relatively unscathed.

Oil prices moved higher during the day but ended trading little changed yesterday. Gasoline futures were up 8.63 cents. The retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.755, down from $2.764 Wednesday, according to AAA. Prices spiked past $3 in many cities after Katrina hit, and Mr. Horsnell said they could again rise sharply if this storm keeps refiners out of commission for more than a few days.

With the hurricane's approach, CenterPoint Energy, with 1.8 million customers in the Houston area, recalled some 70 employees from New Orleans. Yesterday, CenterPoint had some 2,300 linemen and 1,600 tree-trimmers ready to restore power and fix poles, said Emily Mir Thompson, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint.

"We are telling our customers," she said, "to be prepared to be without electricity for up to two weeks."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Alexei Barrionuevo in Chicago and David Leonhardt, Jennifer Bayot, Julie Creswell and Milt Freudenheim in New York.

    Houston, You Have a Problem, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/business/23disrupt.html

 

 

 

 

 

Miles of Traffic

as Texans Heed Order to Leave

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 22 - Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.

Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers.

Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic. They maintained that they had not urged such a widespread evacuation, although only a day earlier they invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and told residents that the "time for waiting was over."

Officials also made matters worse for themselves by announcing at one point that they would use inbound lanes on one highway to ease the outbound crush, only to abort the plan later, saying it was impractical.

The unending lines of vehicles heading out of Houston were only one indication of how seriously people along the Gulf Coast regarded the threat of Hurricane Rita, particularly after the devastation and death caused less than a month ago by Hurricane Katrina.

As the day progressed the storm weakened slightly, from Category 5 to Category 4 status, as the maximum wind speed fell from 175 miles per hour to about 140. The hurricane also shifted course toward the north, with landfall expected early Saturday between Galveston and Port Arthur, Tex. The shift offered a glimmer of hope to the panicked Houston area but threatened further flooding in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

But officials warned that the storm still had the potential to cause widespread damage to Houston, and after witnessing what happened in New Orleans, few people here were willing to take their chances.

In Baton Rouge, La., Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called for the evacuation of a nearly half a million people in the southwest portion of her state.

"Head north, head north," she said. "You cannot go east, you cannot go west, head north. If you know the local roads that go north, take those."

Noting the difficulty medical examiners have had in identifying the dead from Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Blanco offered morbid advice to those who refuse to evacuate. "Perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms in indelible ink," she said.

The Houston area's two major air gateways, Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental, suffered major delays when more than 150 screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, facing their own evacuation concerns, did not show up for work. The agency later rushed in replacements, a spokeswoman said, but passengers, already burdening the system with extra luggage for their trips to safety, waited for hours to go through security.

After crawling only 10 or 20 miles in nine hours, some drivers turned around to take their chances at home rather than risk being caught in the open when the hurricane struck.

Starting Wednesday night and throughout Thursday, the major evacuation routes, Interstate 45 north to Dallas, I-10 West to San Antonio, Route 290 to College Station and Austin, and 59 to Lufkin grew into hundred-mile-long parking lots. Drivers heeding the call to evacuate Galveston island and other low-lying areas took 4 and 5 hours to cover the 50 miles to Houston. And there the long crawl north began in earnest.

The delays were long enough for one ice cream seller on I-45 to do a brisk business on the highway, as drivers left their stopped cars to buy refreshments. Cars overheated and broke down and others ran out of gas, worsening the crush.

"The question is how many people will be gravely ill and die sitting on the side of the freeway," said State Representative Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston. "Dying not from the storm, but from the evacuation."

Mr. Coleman's family had tried to leave the city Thursday at his urging - he is traveling on the West Coast - but they gave up after 12 hours of stalled traffic, without even passing the city's outer ring highway.

"If you can't move outside the city of Houston in 12 hours, then nobody else is getting out," Mr. Coleman said. "This is it. Because even if you tried to leave now, you would not move fast enough to get out of harm's way in advance of the storm."

The situation raised serious worries about how the city would handle something like a terrorist attack, he said.

Timothy Adcock, 48, a Houston landscaper who was in the 15th hour of inching to Tyler in a companion's pickup truck after his car broke down under the grueling conditions, said, "I never saw anything so disorganized."

"We did everything we were supposed to do," Mr. Adcock said, "secure our house, left early, checked routes, checked on our neighbors." But he said, "when we got out there we were totally on our own."

A high-occupancy vehicle lane went unused, he said, and they saw no police officers. At one point, Mr. Adcock said, he called the Texas Department of Transportation for an alternate route, but the woman who answered could not find a map.

Many stranded drivers said they had responded to official pleas to flee made by Mayor White and Judge Eckels, who often invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina.

"Don't wait, the time for waiting is over," Mr. White urged Wednesday. "Don't follow the example of New Orleans and think someone's going to get you."

But Thursday as the traffic chaos worsened, he and Judge Eckels appeared to back off their dire warnings, saying that the only mandatory evacuation order concerned those in flood-prone areas along the coast.

"If you're not in the evacuation zone, follow the news," the mayor said. "The storm is oscillating. We may be in a better position." And he maintained: "We have never called for the evacuation of Houston. We asked people to use their common sense."

But Judge Eckels acknowledged under questioning that the massive congestion "was not in the plan."

While the storm is expected to hit the shore with as much strength as Hurricane Katrina did, forecasters added an additional concern Thursday, saying it was likely to stall inland for several days and disgorge enormous amounts of rain.

Hurricane Katrina, while similar in intensity and size, did not cause inland flooding after hitting the Gulf Coast because it was swept out of the South by the jet stream, said Timothy J. Schott, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

But the jet stream, a high-altitude, east-flowing river of air, has shifted to near the Great Lakes, Mr. Schott said, and so cannot be relied on to "scoop out" the swirling, Georgia-size mass of moisture and rain clouds that will be left behind this weekend as Hurricane Rita moves over East Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas.

"This is looming as a big problem," Mr. Schott said. "The storm could spend three days hanging around there" and could easily produce 10 inches or more of rain, enough to cause intense flooding.

Forecasters said the pinwheeling bands of thunderstorms radiating several hundred miles from the eye of the hurricane could produce up to five inches of rain in New Orleans, near the limit of what Army Corps of Engineers officials said the city's taxed pumps could handle.

Governor Blanco of Louisiana appealed for 30,000 more Army and National Guard troops to respond to Hurricane Rita. Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, director of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, said he would forward to request for to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

Frank E. Gutierrez, the emergency management coordinator for Harris County, said that models for an emergency evacuation envisioned 800,000 to 1.2 million people but that "well over 2.5 million" hit the road to flee Hurricane Rita.

Officials in Texas also said they recognized a serious situation had arisen in the evacuation, with many people stranded on traffic-choked highways, without gas and without water. The state had promised to send gas trucks to relieve the problem, Mayor White said, but he could not say how long it would be before those trucks arrived.

In the meantime, he said, the city intended to send out vans and buses filled with water to take to the stranded people, and to evacuate some on the buses, as needed. To that end, Judge Eckels put out a call for volunteers to help load these vans and buses with water, and said that their help was needed immediately.

Mayor White deflected questions from reporters asking him to assess who was to blame for what happened Thursday, specifically the lack of gasoline where needed.

"This is not the time to look at who should have done what on the emergency," the mayor said. "This is not the time we're going to get into who should've done what."

Earlier, as the crush worsened, state transportation officials announced that contraflow lanes would be established first on I-45, then 290 and lastly on I-10. But by midafternoon, with traffic immobile on 290, the plan for extra lanes there was dropped, stranding many and prompting other to reverse course. "We need that route so resources can still get into the city," said a transportation spokeswoman, Janelle Gbur.

Elsewhere, with the storm's expected path shifting, mandatory evacuations were ordered in the Beaumont, Tex., area.

Across the spectrum, from the federal government to the states involved, the response to Hurricane Rita differed fundamentally from the preparations less than a month ago, as Hurricane Katrina moved across the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast.

At the request of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, FEMA was moving to send additional fuel to Texas.

"I just talked with the governor this morning and that was his No. 1 request is to make sure we can get some fuel down there, to make sure those cars have fuels, make sure the first responders have fuels, and we are working to process that right now," said R. David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For people stuck in traffic trying to evacuate, Mr. Paulison advised them not to turn around and go home.

"I know they're frustrated, there's a lot of traffic out there," he said. "Again, that's why we try to evacuate early. If they stay on the road now, they're going to have enough time to get out of harm's way."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Rick Lyman, Maureen Balleza and Christie Taylor in Houston; Margaret Toal in Orange, Tex.; Laura Griffin in Dallas; William Yardley in Baton Rouge, La.; Andrew C. Revkin in New York; and Eric Lipton in Washington.

    Miles of Traffic as Texans Heed Order to Leave, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23storm.html?hp&ex=1127448000&en=5caedc89465eb1c6&ei=5094&partner=homepage

 

 

 

 

 

After Katrina's Lesson,

Bush Is Heading to Texas

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON

 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - Under intense pressure to show that he has learned the practical and political lessons of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush planned on Thursday to pack his foul-weather gear and head to Texas on Friday ahead of Hurricane Rita, trying to make clear that he is directing an all-out federal effort to cope with the storm.

Mr. Bush, who was photographed strumming a guitar in San Diego on the morning that New Orleans was being flooded 23 days ago, appeared intent on ensuring there would be no off-message pictures this time and no question of where his attention was focused.

"Officials at every level of government are preparing for the worst," Mr. Bush said Thursday morning, adding that the officials were working together "to respond swiftly and effectively."

Until now, Mr. Bush has stayed away from disaster zones until the worst is past, out of concern that his presence would be a distraction. But after criticism for a less than hands-on approach immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana coasts, Mr. Bush planned a Texas stop to look at preparations before the forecast arrival of the hurricane early Saturday.

He then intends to fly to Colorado Springs, the White House said, to ride out the storm at the headquarters of the Northern Command.

Mr. Bush can monitor the hurricane from the Northern Command's operations center, where oversight of the military response to crises in the United States is managed. It is at an airfield just across town from Cheyenne Mountain, where the military once monitored the Soviet Union for nuclear missile launching.

Asked whether Mr. Bush's pre-hurricane advance work in Texas was anything more than a photo-op, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said the president "wants to go and be able to see some of the preparations that are under way" and thank police, fire, medical and other emergency personnel who are assembling to work on the storm.

"He is the president, and as he indicated to you all, it is his responsibility when it comes to the federal government's role in these hurricanes," Mr. McClellan told reporters, alluding to Mr. Bush's statement last week that he had ultimate responsibility for any federal failures involving Hurricane Katrina.

In briefings, the White House, the Homeland Security Department and other agencies said the federal government was acting on multiple fronts and suggested that the goal was a more coordinated, comprehensive and aggressive response to Hurricane Rita than it mustered for Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Bush spoke to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency poured equipment and supplies into the region, including gasoline to head off a possible shortage. The Pentagon prepared to send thousands of active-duty military personnel, if necessary, for relief and rescue efforts.

Hurricane Rita, bearing down on Texas as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 miles an hour, presented a critical test to Mr. Bush, FEMA and the rest of the federal government little more than three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, exposed serious flaws in Washington's disaster planning and left Mr. Bush politically wounded.

As a result, the response to Hurricane Rita differed fundamentally from the preparations as Hurricane Katrina moved across the Gulf of Mexico.

FEMA has placed 14 urban search and rescue teams in Texas, compared with seven teams in place before Hurricane Katrina.

By Thursday evening, the agency planned to have 45 truckloads of water, 45 of ice and 25 of meals assembled at federal centers in Texas, officials said.

Other federal agencies had bigger roles, as well, including the Transportation Department, which has provided 650 buses to Texas and Louisiana to help with evacuations.

On Wednesday, the department also started an airlift to move certain people out of Beaumont, Corpus Christi and Houston, an effort that intensified on Thursday. The department planned to fly 20 to 25 flights from Houston to elsewhere in the state by the end of Thursday, moving 4,000 people.

With lives on the line and another big swath of the United States facing the prospect of widespread damage to homes, businesses, roads and psyches, Mr. Bush has compelling, substantive reasons to focus on the new storm. But his job is all the more challenging for the political risk it entails after Hurricane Katrina.

Despite Mr. Bush's making an open-ended commitment to rebuild New Orleans and address the needs of the rest of the Gulf Coast, his popularity poll numbers remain at or near the lowest of his presidency, his own party is divided over the spending necessary to make good on his promise, and Democrats are attacking him for policies they say have shredded the social safety net.

Eric Lipton contributed reporting for this article.

    After Katrina's Lesson, Bush Is Heading to Texas, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23bush.html

 

 

 

 

 

Shift in Storm's Path

Raises Fears

About Weak New Orleans Levees

 

September 23, 2005
The New York Times

By JERE LONGMAN and MICHAEL BRICK

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 22 - As the outer bands of Hurricane Rita raked past with gusty winds and showers, water began seeping into the shattered and empty Lower Ninth Ward through makeshift dike repairs on Thursday, and the Army Corps of Engineers expressed concern about just how reliably a weakened levee system could protect this devastated city against a tidal surge along Lake Pontchartrain.

Little more than 24 days after Hurricane Katrina killed at least 832 people in Louisiana, Hurricane Rita was expected to scour New Orleans with winds that could reach tropical force as it headed toward landfall near the Louisiana-Texas border.

At the least, two to four inches of floodwater are expected here in a city that sits largely below sea level, Mayor C. Ray Nagin said on Thursday, adding that he had been reassured by the corps that the city's mended levee system could withstand an expected storm surge of three to five feet.

"If it's any higher than that, then you can have water pushed into the city," Mayor Nagin said at a news conference. "Then the pumping capacity becomes really challenged."

Five thousand troops from the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne Division are preparing to secure New Orleans against another storm, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has called for an additional 30,000 soldiers. Mayor Nagin said he was watching weather reports with a kind of paranoia now that Hurricane Rita had made a turn that could take it farther east than previously expected.

City employees, once upbeat about the rebuilding process in a city that still lacks drinking water and has only limited electricity, have grown anxious about the prospect of being hit by even the periphery of a second powerful storm, the mayor said.

"People are struggling with the fact, 'Why such powerful storms back to back?' " Mayor Nagin said. "We're talking to people and trying to get them to focus on the task at hand. Maybe we'll be spared this time."

In the Lower Ninth Ward, where two gaping breaches in the Industrial Canal levee submerged and splintered one of the poorest sections of the city, four to eight inches of water began seeping back into some abandoned and destroyed neighborhoods by noon on Thursday. Small waterfalls of leakage could be seen several feet below the top of the repaired levee as wind pushed rising water from Lake Pontchartrain through the Industrial Canal.

This was to be expected, said Chad Rachel, a civil engineer with the corps, after an inspection of the repaired breaches. There did not appear to be any erosion of compacted clay base of the patched dike, he said, adding that he felt certain the large, interlocking stones atop the base would be able to withstand the expected storm surge.

"We don't expect any problem with a catastrophic breach," Mr. Rachel said.

By dusk, however, water had continued to rise, and Maj. Barry Guidry of the Army offered a direr assessment after examining the leaking at the Industrial Canal. "The levee's going to cave in," Major Guidry said. "In the middle of the night, this thing is going to be gone."

Even if heavy flooding did happen again in the Lower Ninth Ward, this might serve as a kind of safety valve that could prevent water from submerging more inhabitable parts of the city, police officials said.

"This is a graveyard already," said Sgt. Bryan Lampard of the New Orleans police, who was in the Lower Ninth Ward searching for bodies or the rare possibility of a survivor. "This area is not coming back anytime soon."

Houses were shoved off their foundations and splintered in this ruined section of the city. Cars were turned upside-down. The damage resembled that on the Mississippi Coast more than it did many other parts of New Orleans. About the only thing salvageable from most of these houses was a hammer, said Eric Baum, a spokesman for a federal search-and-rescue team from Miami.

Rescuers left the area as the water continued to seep in but said they had nearly completed their search for bodies. Only about 20 were recovered in the Lower Ninth Ward, said Capt. Tim Bayard, who is in charge of the recovery effort for the New Orleans police. This suggested, Mayor Nagin said, that the death toll from Hurricane Katrina, once predicted to be in the thousands, now seemed to be "much lower than anyone imagined, which I'm thankful for."

At the breached 17th Street Canal, which flooded the Lakeview section of New Orleans, a crew from the Army Corps of Engineers finished shoring up sandbags and metal pilings that jutted above the side of the levee like rusty dominoes. The levee was no longer leaking, but a direct hit by even a greatly diminished Hurricane Rita, or storm surges of more than 10 or 12 feet from Lake Pontchartrain could wash out the makeshift plugs, said Robert Foret, a quality assurance officer with the corps.

"We have saturated levees right now, so this is all guesswork," Mr. Foret said.

The plugging of breaches in the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal to protect against a storm surge has required a tradeoff, Mayor Nagin said. Water might be kept from coming into the city, he said, but it will be more difficult to force out from the midtown area because the improvised repairs have left three of the city's most powerful pumps unavailable, he said.

"Everybody's on pins and needles right now," Mr. Foret said.

Ten buses were available near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to take residents out of the nearly empty east bank of New Orleans, but only one or two people decided to evacuate what is essentially a ghost town on Wednesday, Mayor Nagin said.

He cautioned that Hurricane Rita was a dangerous storm, and although New Orleans did not figure to bear the brunt of the hurricane, the city could not let its guard down.

If the storm made a significant turn eastward, Mayor Nagin said, "we have a whole other ballgame."

    Shift in Storm's Path Raises Fears About Weak New Orleans Levees, NYT, 23.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/national/nationalspecial/23orleans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Rita's long-term impact on US oil unknown

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 10:04 PM ET
Reuters
By Janet McGurty

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The worst case scenario for U.S. oil and gas infrastructure after Hurricane Rita reaches land could have gasoline supplies strained further than they already are and prices reaching record levels, some analysts said on Thursday.

Other analysts say prices have the "Rita effect" built in and that once the storm clears land, refineries will come back, imports will start to arrive and prices will decline.

But until Hurricane Rita reaches land, the impact it has on U.S. Gulf Coast energy infrastructure and on the price of gasoline and heating oil remains a wildcard.

Hurricane Rita, now downgraded to a Category 4 storm, has veered toward the east and now is expected to make landfall early Saturday just north of Houston, Texas, shifting the focus away from refineries in Corpus Christi and toward the Louisiana border.

"It's still somewhat of a coin toss. The odds lean against the possibility of this coming up the Houston Ship Channel," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Illinois.

Oil prices eased on Thursday as the storm weakened slightly and as crude demand dropped as refineries shut and could remain closed at least through next week.

The pull back today is reflecting the likelihood there will definitely be some wind damage, power outages and possibly flooding damage. As analysts continue to monitor Rita's path, the spectre of Hurricane Katrina remains visible.

"Katrina blew a big hole in the product market. If Rita doubles that, we are in for some serious problems," said Jamal Qureshi, an oil analyst at Washington-based PFC Energy.

Already tight U.S. refining capacity was strained further after four refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi closed after flood damage from Katrina, sending the average price of a gallon to a record $3.06 a gallon.

"This could be almost worse than Katrina because there are 4 million barrels of refining in Texas areas, much more than there was in New Orleans," said Tim Evans, analyst at IFR Energy Services in New York. "(Texas) is the other major refining heart," he said, adding that Rita will be a stress test for Gulf Coast refineries.

Lack of power has kept the Louisiana refineries closed for more than three weeks, so any sustained closure of Texas area refineries will hit supplies of gasoline and heating oil needed for winter fuel.

But some analysts think that Rita won't have that much of a sustained effect.

"The market has already bid up the price of gasoline. It's been buy the rumor and sell the fact," said Sarah Emerson, director of petroleum at Boston-based ESAI Inc.

Emerson expects to see gasoline prices to initially rise and then ease as the higher prices attract shipments of the fuel to U.S. shores and the storm ends.

"Prices will come down on imports. There are lots coming our way," said Emerson.

As the storm neared, Texas refiners intensified efforts to prepare for the hurricane by shutting down operations, taking down about 29 percent of U.S. total refining capacity.

According to Qureshi, the best case scenario would be 2 million bpd of refining capacity out for four or five days. The worst case, he said, is if a big chunk of refining capacity is out for weeks or months, much like Katrina knocked out four refineries in Louisiana, which are still not back in operation after more than three weeks.

"The market is certainly tightened by this event," said IFR's Evans, who said he wouldn't be surprised to see gasoline stocks fall substantially but with demand limited by a slowdown of gasoline demand which has fallen to 6.5 pct below August levels over the past two weeks.

But some industry observers think that there will be a big difference between Rita and Katrina, which wreaked havoc on Louisiana and Mississippi.

"After Katrina, there were a bunch of refineries which didn't sustain structural damage but couldn't turn the power back on," ESAI's Emerson said.

While Houston isn't below sea level like New Orleans, it still can see some damage from flooding.

"Houston isn't as vulnerable, but there could still be dangerous storm surges," said Aaron Brady, analyst at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

But in the end, it will be a wait-and-see because only Mother Nature knows for sure.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner)

    Rita's long-term impact on US oil unknown, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=businessNews&storyID=2005-09-23T020419Z_01_MOR267620_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-ENERGY-OIL.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rita roars through Gulf

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 11:32 PM ET
Reuters
By Erwin Seba

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - More than a million people jammed Texas highways to flee ferocious Hurricane Rita, which loomed in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, threatening the coast of Texas, already storm-battered Louisiana and the heart of the U.S. oil industry.

As of 11 p.m EDT (0300 GMT), top sustained winds from Rita, downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane from Category 5 earlier in the day, were near 140 mph(225 kph), down from 145 mph (233 kph) three hours earlier. The storm moved west-northwest, headed for just east of Galveston and Houston.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to shift gradually to the northwest over the next 24 hours. Officials warned the storm remained unpredictable.

"I don't think anyone in the Gulf Coast is out of harm's way," said David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Port O'Connor, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

Drivers sat for hours in traffic jams on highways heading inland from coastal Texas, heeding the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of residents were unable to escape New Orleans as levees broke and the city flooded.

"It's an absolute nightmare," said John Griffin, 37, who gave up and turned back to Houston with his wife and two daughters after trying for several hours to drive inland.

Fights were reported at gasoline stations, and the state dispatched fuel trucks to serve motorists who ran out of gas. One interstate was turned into a one-way route inland to ease a 100-mile (160-km) traffic jam.

"I don't think they would have made this big a deal about it before, but Katrina has made everybody want to get out," said Karen Mclinjoy, sitting in a Houston traffic jam.

Travelers waited hours to board outbound flights at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

As Rita threatened the area's massive oil industry, Exxon Mobil said it was closing the largest U.S. oil refinery in Baytown, Texas and one in Beaumont, 90 miles east.

 

STORM SURGE, SQUALLS IN NEW ORLEANS

The closings, combined with shutdowns from Katrina which struck August 29, raised to at least 13 the number of U.S. refineries out of commission. The storms have shut 29 percent of U.S. refining capacity, raising the specter of serious gasoline shortages in the days ahead.

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Rita's center was about 350 miles southeast of Galveston and about 310 miles (499 km) southeast of Cameron, Louisiana, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 80 miles from its center. It was moving west-northwest at almost 10 mph (16 kph), the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm's projected track up the coast edged it close to Louisiana, still reeling from Katrina three weeks ago. That monster storm killed at least 1,066 people and displaced as many as one million.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco urged coastal communities to evacuate and recorded an automated telephone message that was sent to more than 400,000 households. "Hurricane Rita is heading your way," Blanco says in the message.

In New Orleans, water could be seen weeping through the bottom of one of the newly patched levees in the city's hard-hit Ninth Ward and forming a shallow pool, but an official with the Army Corps of Engineers said it was not unexpected in the weakened barrier.

While New Orleans was not expected to take a direct blow, the National Weather Service warned it could face tropical-storm winds. Rita also was expected to bring the city a storm surge of up to five feet and rain squalls.

"We are not letting our guards down, because as you know these hurricanes can change," said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for most of the city.

The shifting path could spare Houston, the Gulf Coast's largest population center, the full brunt of the storm.

"We may dodge a bullet in Houston, Texas," Gov. Rick Perry said. "But I'd rather sit in traffic for eight to 12 hours than take a chance it doesn't change any farther to the east. We're talking about people's lives here."

Galveston, a barrier island, remained prone to mass destruction. It was 90 percent empty as the storm neared. "Galveston is going to suffer," City Manager Steve LeBlanc said.

Some people in Galveston, however, said they just could not bear to leave the city, which is protected by a 17-foot (5-meter) seawall built after a 1900 hurricane killed 8,000 people in the most deadly U.S. natural disaster on record.

 

LOSING STEAM BUT STILL STRONG

Diane Bethea, who lives a block from the seawall, said she would stay because her dog, a Doberman Pinscher, at 100 pounds (45 kg) was too big to be caged on an evacuation bus. "If we're going to die, we're going to die together," she said.

Expected to lose some steam as it neared land, Rita still could hit Texas late on Friday or early Saturday as no less than a Category 3 storm with winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph).

Katrina was a Category 4 storm.

President George W. Bush, criticized for a slow federal response to Katrina, planned to visit Texas on Friday to view the emergency preparations.

The offshore Gulf region produces a third of U.S. oil.

About 92 percent of total offshore oil production and 66 percent of natural gas output was shut down as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily and Mark Babineck in Houston, Kenneth Li in Corpus Christi, Bernie Woodall in New York and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge)

    Rita roars through Gulf, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-23T033239Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rita downgraded to Category 4

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 2:09 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita weakened to a Category 4 storm with winds at 150 miles per hour but remained an extremely dangerous storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Thursday afternoon.

It forecast the storm would hit near the Houston area, the heart of the U.S. oil industry, as a dangerous hurricane of at least Category 3 intensity early Saturday.

All of the major weather models forecast the storm should strike between the Houston area and the Texas-Louisiana border.

The NHC forecast a further slight weakening during the next 24 hours, but said Rita would remain an extremely dangerous hurricane. Earlier Thursday, Rita's maximum sustained winds reached 175 mph.

At 2 p.m. EDT, the center of the storm was located about 435 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and about 430 miles southeast of Port Arthur, Texas.

Rita was moving toward the west-northwest at about 9 mph. The NHC expects a gradual turn to the northwest during the next 24 to 36 hours.

The NHC said it would issue another advisory at 5 p.m. Position: Lat. 25.5 degrees North

Long. 89.2 degrees West

(435 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas) Track: Moving west near 9 mph Strength: 150 mph maximum sustained winds

    Rita downgraded to Category 4, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T180922Z_01_SPI264002_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-STRENGTH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Texans flee fearsome Rita

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 1:53 PM ET
Reuters
By Erwin Seba

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Cars clogged Texas highways with more than a million people fleeing Hurricane Rita on Thursday as the Category 5 storm roared through the Gulf of Mexico on a potentially catastrophic course.

Heavy traffic jammed highways from Corpus Christi in southern Texas into Louisiana as coastal residents, heeding the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, headed inland to escape what has become one of the most intense storms on record.

The National Hurricane Center said the path of Rita, with top winds dropping slightly to 165 mph (265 kph), had shifted toward the north. It appeared to be headed toward Galveston and Houston, the nation's fourth largest city and center of the U.S. oil industry.

As Rita neared, Exxon Mobil said it was closing the biggest U.S. oil refinery in Baytown, Texas and another in Beaumont, 90 miles east.

The closings, combined with earlier shutdowns due to Rita and Katrina three weeks ago, raised to at least 12 the number of U.S. refineries out of commission. Together, they had nearly 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity, raising the specter of serious gasoline shortages in the days ahead.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Port O'Connor, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

Rita was expected to lose a little steam as it neared land, but was still forecast to hit Texas as no less than a Category 3 storm with winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph).

"It's not a good picture for us at this point," said a grim Galveston city manager Steve LeBlanc. "We're in for a historic storm."

Weather forecasters told Galveston officials to expect Gulf waters to surge over a 17-foot (5-meter) seawall that protects the island city, he said. The seawall was constructed after a 1900 hurricane that killed 8,000 people in the worst U.S. natural disaster.

Houston, headquarters to many large energy firms, was expecting flooding from a storm surge in Galveston Bay and up to 18 inches of rain, weather forecasters said.

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Rita's center was about 460 miles southeast of Galveston and 445 miles southeast of Port Arthur with hurricane-force winds that extended 85 miles from its center. It was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph (15 kph), the hurricane center said.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco urged coastal communities to evacuate as forecasts indicated Rita would come closer to state than previously thought.

 

SLOW JOURNEY

People began flooding out of the coastal region on Wednesday and the mass exodus continued on Thursday. Residents of the island city of Galveston, Corpus Christi and low-lying parts of Houston 50 miles inland were among the 1.3 million Texans told to evacuate.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic jams filled the region's highways. Area stores were scrambling to keep supplies on the shelves while gas stations with fuel to sell dwindled to a precious few.

"I'm leaving. I'm just not going to chance it," said Rebecca Henson, 23, in Galveston, as she prepared to head north from the island.

"When they said it was going to hit Corpus Christi, that was OK, but I don't want to be hit dead on," she said.

"I don't think they would have made this big a deal about it before, but Katrina has made everybody want to get out," said Karen Mclinjoy, who was in a Houston traffic jam trying to get to Dallas, 240 miles north.

The departure of so many reminded of similar scenes just three weeks before in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina came ashore and most in the city of 450,000 people, many of them to Texas.

Federal and Texas officials moved quickly to put rescue efforts in place to avoid the chaotic scenes of death, violence and looting that befell New Orleans when rescue operations there floundered.

At the White House, President George W. Bush was briefed on preparations for dealing with Hurricane Rita and on the latest storm track and spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez of the Texas National Guard told CNN they have 3,500 troops on the ground and expect to have 5,000 by Friday evening and Saturday morning.

City officials in New Orleans, 350 miles east of Houston, evacuated people on Wednesday and were prepared to put more on buses out of the city if Rita turned in its direction.

Rita, still a small storm at that point, brushed across the Florida Keys on Tuesday, but did little damage.

It turned into a brute that filled half the Gulf on Wednesday and sent energy companies scurrying to evacuate production platforms in the rich oil and gas fields offshore that produce a third of U.S. oil.

About 73 percent of total offshore oil production and 47 percent of natural gas output was shut in as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in New York and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge)

    Texans flee fearsome Rita, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T175254Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Texans Leave Houston and Coast

as Hurricane Rita Moves Closer

 

September 22, 2005
The New York Times
By SIMON ROMERO and CHRISTINE HAUSER

 

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 22 - Hurricane Rita's winds weakened slightly today but it remained a "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 storm as it continued to barrel toward the Texas coastline, where more than a million people have been evacuating. As the hurricane bore down on the coastline from about 460 miles southeast of Galveston, Tex., President Bush said today that authorities were "preparing for the worst" and urged residents to heed the call of authorities and evacuate.

The president has declared an emergency in Texas and Louisiana and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in areas affected by Rita, which threatens the battered Gulf Coast just weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck.

He said today that troops were being positioned in advance to cope with the storm, which is likely to make landfall early on Saturday.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has designated Rear Adm. Larry L. Hereth, director of port security for the Coast Guard, to handle response and recovery operations for Hurricane Rita from Austin, Tex. Today, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana said at a news conference in Baton Rouge that she had asked for 15,000 additional federal troops and that authorities were pre-positioning national guard, medical and helicopter search and rescue units.

"I am urging people to go north," she said. "We are preparing shelters in the northern part of the state to receive our people."

By midmorning, the hurricane's winds had weakened slightly, to about 165 miles an hour. They extended up to 85 miles from the center of the storm, which was moving west-northwest at 9 m.p.h. across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico earlier but has since drifted slightly to the east. If the hurricane weakens slightly, it is still expected to make landfall as a major storm, forecasters said.

The storm attained the strongest storm designation on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of as many as a million people from this island city and other Gulf Coast communities along an arc from Corpus Christi to New Orleans.

Heeding the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, the authorities in Galveston ordered all residents to leave the city immediately and tried to evacuate the city's hospitals and nursing homes with buses, ambulances and helicopters. Businesses and public buildings covered windows with plywood, and the Strand, the central business district, was virtually empty by Wednesday afternoon.

"Coastal Texans should not wait until late Thursday or early Friday to leave," Gov. Rick Perry said. "Homes and businesses can be rebuilt. Lives cannot."

Over little more than 24 hours, Hurricane Rita strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it cleared the Florida Keys and passed over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina briefly reached Category 5 strength as it approached the Gulf Coast, but it weakened a notch before slamming into Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29. The death toll from that storm passed the 1,000 mark on Wednesday.

Landfall for Hurricane Rita is predicted early Saturday north of Matagorda Bay.

The approaching storm provoked fear in Houston and along a broad swath of the Texas coast, where a nuclear plant and huge petrochemical refineries pose special hazards. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that operators of the nuclear plant the South Texas Project in Bay City, a few miles from Matagorda Bay, were working to shut down both of its reactors.

Officials of the state's environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Wednesday that they were receiving numerous reports from plant operators along the length of the coast that they were shutting down their industrial processes or minimizing operations as a precaution.

"In the wake of Katrina, people are being more vigilant and more conservative in their approach," especially in light of that hurricane's economic and environmental impacts resulting from damage at similar facilities in Louisiana, said David Bower, the assistant director for field operations of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Mr. Bower described the shutdowns and other actions as "absolutely comprehensive" at locations along the Texas coast.

The possibility of the storm hitting anywhere on the Texas coastline drove oil prices higher on concern that the storm might shut down refineries or tear apart pipelines. Companies evacuated workers from at least three refineries around Houston, which has the nation's highest concentration of refining capacity. Oil prices climbed 60 cents, or 1 percent, to $66.80 a barrel.

In Washington, officials have tried to show that they were prepared for Hurricane Rita after missteps in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities and follow them," President Bush said in a speech on Wednesday to the Republican Jewish Coalition. "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we got to be ready for the worst."

Many of the 13,000 active-duty troops in Louisiana, Mississippi and off the Gulf Coast, including marines and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, were on standby to deploy to Texas if state officials there requested federal military assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, officials at the Pentagon said.

Ten Navy ships, including the hospital ship Comfort, have moved to the northeastern part of the gulf to avoid the storm, but would be ready to steam in quickly behind the hurricane to offer relief. Twenty helicopters at Fort Hood, Tex., have also been placed on standby in case they are needed for search and rescue, transport or Medivac missions in support of FEMA, said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the Northern Command.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are on duty in Louisiana and 10,500 in Mississippi. According to the National Guard Bureau, nearly 2,000 National Guards troops are on state-active duty preparing for Hurricane Rita, and Governor Perry has authorized the activation of up to 5,000 of the more than 10,000 National Guard troops currently available in the state. The Air National Guard has also moved several of its aircraft to Austin from Houston as a precaution.

The American Red Cross was moving supplies and equipment into staging areas in Dallas and San Antonio and opening shelters according to Texas's disaster preparedness plans. Its Disaster Operations Center in Washington was a beehive of activity, as its staff and volunteers mustered supplies, vehicles and other necessities.

In Florida, Hurricane Rita caused no major structural damage in Key West, but some flooding was reported. About 7,000 customers in the Florida Keys lost power and crews were working to restore it by the end of the day Wednesday. Residents who had evacuated Key West were being allowed back Wednesday, while tourists were scheduled to return Friday.

Meanwhile in New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin had a mandatory evacuation order in effect Wednesday for the most of the city, including the French Quarter, the central business district and Uptown. But on Wednesday, the city remained filled with contractors, cleaners and military personnel driving down streets without working traffic lights.

About two dozen people who were evacuating because of Hurricane Rita arrived Wednesday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where tens of thousands of people were stranded for days after Hurricane Katrina.

Still, after days of worry that Hurricane Rita would strike New Orleans, there was some sense of relief that it was heading west, reducing the potential damage to the city.

"We're watching Rita," said Sally Forman, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "We don't have a huge population in our city, but I think that the mandatory evacuation is working."

While New Orleans braced for the possibility of more disruption, communities in Texas were also on edge Wednesday. South of Galveston in Matagorda County, Sheriff James Mitchell said that his office would not respond to calls in evacuated areas and that parents would be subject to criminal charges for endangerment of a child if they did not remove their children from the path of the storm.

Longtime residents in Houston remembered the ravages of the last hurricane to strike the city, Hurricane Alicia, in August 1983. Although barely a Category 3 storm, it was responsible for six deaths and it devastated the downtown skyline with 80 m.p.h. winds, shattering hundreds of windows and leaving the streets ankle-deep in glass.

Galveston was perhaps more nervous than any other city, having just marked the 105th anniversary of the great storm of 1900, which killed more than 6,000 residents and remains the deadliest natural disaster in the nation's history. Although Galveston largely rebuilt itself and raised the elevation of parts of the island, the storm contributed to the city's decline from a bustling center for shipping and finance to a somewhat sleepy tourist destination.

Most of Galveston was eerily empty by early Wednesday evening, with even a team of nine officials from the Federal Emergency Management Administration leaving the city. The FEMA officials, who had been assisting evacuees from Louisiana, said they had been ordered by their managers to leave Galveston.

At the University of Texas Medical Branch, a complex consisting of six hospitals, 320 of its 370 patients had been evacuated by early Wednesday evening, Marsha Canright, a spokeswoman, said. The state corrections department Wednesday also evacuated another 70 inmates from the medical center's prison hospital, Ms. Canright said. She said it was the first time in the hospital's 114-year history that it had been evacuated.

In a span of four hours Wednesday morning, the 175 residents of Edgewater Retirement Community, which sits along the city's seawall, were evacuated on chartered buses and ambulances, said Barbara Williams, the residence's assistant administrator.

Some people in Galveston said they had no idea when they might be able to return to the city, which has 60,000 residents.

Simon Romero reported from Galveston, Tex., for this article and Christine Hauser from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ralph Blumenthal and Maureen Balleza in Houston, Thayer Evans in Galveston, William Yardley in New Orleans, Terence Neilan and Andrew C. Revkin in New York, Eric Schmitt in Washington, and Terry Aguayo in Miami.

    Texans Leave Houston and Coast as Hurricane Rita Moves Closer, NYT, 22.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/22/national/22cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

Oil leaps above $68

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 7:53 AM ET
Reuters
By Barbara Lewis and Janet McBride

 

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil raced above $68 a barrel on Thursday as Hurricane Rita bore down on Gulf of Mexico and threatened to batter oil and gas infrastructure that is struggling to recover from Katrina.

So far, six refineries in Texas have been shut down as a precaution as Rita, now a maximum Category 5 storm, aimed her 175 mph (280 kph) winds on Texas, home to a quarter of U.S. refining capacity. She is expected to hit land by early Saturday.

U.S. light crude was up $1.30 at $68.10 a barrel at 1150 GMT, just below Wednesday's three-week high of $68.27.

London Brent crude was up 98 cents at $65.71.

"There is an awful lot of potential for damage," said Mark Keenan of London-based fund MPC.

Analysts predicted the biggest impact would be on products, as lost refining capacity aggravates a shortage of refined fuels, while overall crude stocks are comfortable.

"Certainly for product prices, the only way is up," Keenan said.

Analysts warned any damage to natural gas facilities could also have a very bullish impact because lost supplies would be far more difficult to replace than lost crude.

"The physical implications are potentially quite significant, particularly for heating oil, heading into winter in the United States, and natural gas," said Matthew Schwab, managing director of AIG Financial Products Corp.

But for now, gasoline futures were showing the sharpest gains among refined products.

Gasoline futures rose 10.68 cents to $2.1599 a gallon. Heating oil was up 4.88 cents to $2.0875.

 

SUSPENDED OUTPUT

The six Texas refineries shut as a precaution have suspended total daily output capacity of 1.4 million barrels.

Together with the four facilities still closed in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina struck at the end of August, around 14 percent of U.S. refining capacity is offline.

(For "FACTBOX-Hurricane Rita shuts 6 Texas refineries, oil output", click on

Unrest in oil producing countries was also supporting prices.

The arrest of a Nigerian warlord over "treasonable" comments this week brought his supporters to the streets, threatening violence and putting supplies from the world's eighth largest exporter of crude at risk.

Oil major Shell evacuated staff from its headquarters as a precaution in a region that accounts for most of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels per day oil output.

Analysts were also concerned about the upsurge of violence in Iraq and unease over Iran's secretive nuclear program.

But U.S. crude futures are still below the record high of $70.85 a barrel touched in Katrina's wake, and there are signs that prices are been moderated slightly as the strength of the market begins to erode demand.

(additional reporting by Paul Marriott in Sydney)

    Oil leaps above $68, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T115315Z_01_SCH226808_RTRUKOC_0_US-MARKETS-OIL.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Texans flee coast

as Rita churns closer

 

Thu Sep 22, 2005 8:33 AM ET
Reuters
By Erwin Seba

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - More than 1 million people along the Texas coast fled the approach of Hurricane Rita on Thursday as it developed into one of the most intense storms on record and threatened catastrophic damage.

With winds of nearly 170 mph (273 kph), the Category 5 hurricane churned across the Gulf of Mexico on a course that was expected to take it ashore late on Friday or early on Saturday.

Having learned a lesson from Hurricane Katrina's assault on Louisiana and Mississippi last month, city officials along the Texas coast told residents to clear out and arranged for buses for those who needed help.

Residents of the island city of Galveston, Corpus Christi and low-lying parts of Houston 50 miles inland were among the 1.3 million Texans told to evacuate. Houstonians fleeing their city created bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on interstate highways that lasted well into the night.

New Orleans, still staggering after being flooded by Katrina, was taking no chances this time. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who told people along a 300-mile

stretch of coast to leave, said computer projections were prepared for city officials so they could see what could be left underwater after being hit by Rita's storm surge.

"Between Katrina and our preparations for this, people understand this isn't something you're going to play around with," Perry told CNN.

He said 5,000 Texas National Guard troops were on standby and 1,000 Department of Public Safety officers were along evacuation routes, ready to move in after Rita's landfall. Shelters for 250,000 evacuees were being established in Huntsville, College Station, San Antonio and Dallas.

In Galveston, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said on Thursday up to 80 percent of the vulnerable city's 60,000 residents had left.

"We'll have our police forces down there with the loudspeakers reminding people that they need to leave today -- because tomorrow will be too late," she told CNN.

Corpus Christi Mayor Henry Garrett said the evacuation of his city was inspired by Katrina and was going smoothly.

 

THIRD MOST INTENSE HURRICANE

As of 8 a.m. EDT, Rita's center was about 490 miles southeast of Galveston and 595 miles east-southeast of Corpus Christi with hurricane-force winds that extended 70 miles from its center. It was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph (15 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Rita's maximum sustained winds of up to 175 mph (281 kph) over the warm waters of the Gulf matched the peak strength over water of Katrina, which hit land as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph (233 kph) winds.

The hurricane center expected Rita to weaken slowly but still make landfall as a major hurricane.

A hurricane watch was issued for the U.S. Gulf Coast from Port Mansfield Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, a 575-mile (925-km) stretch that covers almost all the Texas coast.

After criticism for a slow response to Katrina, President George W. Bush declared emergencies for Texas and Louisiana as Rita approached.

A FEMA spokesman said Rita was not expected to re-flood New Orleans if the storm stayed on its current westward course.

Financial markets reacted immediately to news the storm had gained strength, with the prospect of more destruction and oil-supply interruptions affecting everything from stocks and the dollar to oil prices.

Oil companies just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved closer. Four Texas refineries were shut down, even as four refineries remained shut in Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina.

The Mexican government issued a tropical storm watch for the country's northeast coast from Rio San Fernando northward.

The last major hurricane to hit Houston was Alicia in 1983, a Category 3 storm that killed 22 people. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 caused extensive flooding in the city and killed more than 40 people across the United States.

 

(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge)

Texans flee coast as Rita churns closer, R, 22.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T122950Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residents of the Edgewater Retirement Community,

waiting to board buses,

were among thousands of people evacuating Galveston Wednesday.

 

Photograph: Tim Johnson/Reuters

 

Gulf Hurricane of Top Strength Menaces Texas        NYT        22.9.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/22/national/nationalspecial/22storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gulf Hurricane of Top Strength

Menaces Texas

 

September 22, 2005
The New York Times

By SIMON ROMERO

 

GALVESTON, Tex., Sept. 21 - Hurricane Rita attained the strongest storm designation Wednesday as it barreled toward the Texas coastline, forcing the evacuation of as many as a million people from this island city and other Gulf Coast communities along an arc from Corpus Christi to New Orleans.

Heeding the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, the authorities in Galveston ordered all residents to leave the city immediately and tried to evacuate the city's hospitals and nursing homes with buses, ambulances and helicopters. Businesses and public buildings covered windows with plywood, and the Strand, the central business district, was virtually empty by Wednesday afternoon.

"Coastal Texans should not wait until late Thursday or early Friday to leave," said Gov. Rick Perry. "Homes and businesses can be rebuilt. Lives cannot."

Over little more than 24 hours, Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 5 storm as it cleared the Florida Keys and passed over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Rita had winds of 165 miles per hour, putting it at the highest measurable level.

Hurricane Katrina had briefly reached Category 5 strength as it approached the Gulf Coast, but it weakened a notch before slamming into Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29. The death toll from that storm passed the 1,000 mark on Wednesday. [Page A28.]

Forecasters say Hurricane Rita will pass over cooler waters Thursday and Friday, potentially weakening it to a Category 4 storm before it makes landfall, which is predicted early Saturday morning in the area around Matagorda Bay, south of Galveston, though it might strike any coastal area north of Corpus Christi. Winds of 130 m.p.h. in parts of Texas should be expected, said Bob Rose, a meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority in Texas.

"This is going to be one very nasty, mean hurricane when it strikes land," Mr. Rose said.

The approaching storm provoked fear in Houston and along a broad swath of the Texas coast, where a nuclear plant and huge petrochemical refineries pose special hazards. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that operators of the nuclear plant the South Texas Project in Bay City, a few miles from Matagorda Bay, were working to shut down both of its reactors.

Officials of the state's environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Wednesday that they were receiving numerous reports from plant operators along the length of the coast that they were shutting down their industrial processes or minimizing operations as a precaution.

"In the wake of Katrina, people are being more vigilant and more conservative in their approach," especially in light of the earlier hurricane's economic and environmental impacts resulting from damage at similar facilities in Louisiana, said David Bower, the assistant director for field operations of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Mr. Bower described the shutdowns and other actions as "absolutely comprehensive" at locations along the Texas coast.

The possibility of the storm hitting anywhere on the Texas coastline drove oil prices higher on concern that the storm might shut down refineries or tear apart pipelines. Companies evacuated workers from at least three refineries around Houston, which has the nation's highest concentration of refining capacity. Oil prices climbed 60 cents, or 1 percent, to $66.80 a barrel.

In Washington, where President Bush declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana, officials tried to show that they were prepared for Hurricane Rita after the government's missteps in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities and follow them," President Bush said in a speech Wednesday to the Republican Jewish Coalition. "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm but we got to be ready for the worst."

Many of the 13,000 active-duty troops in Louisiana, Mississippi and off the Gulf Coast, including marines and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, were on standby Wednesday, to deploy to Texas if state officials there requested federal military assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, officials at the Pentagon said.

Ten Navy ships, including the hospital ship Comfort, have moved to the northeastern part of the gulf to avoid the storm, but would be ready to steam in quickly behind the hurricane to offer relief. Twenty helicopters at Fort Hood, Tex., have also been placed on standby in case they are needed for search and rescue, transport or Medivac missions in support of FEMA, Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the Northern Command, said.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are on duty in Louisiana and 10,500 in Mississippi. According to the National Guard Bureau, nearly 2,000 National Guards troops are on state-active duty preparing for Hurricane Rita, and Governor Perry has authorized the activation of up to 5,000 of the more than 10,000 National Guard troops currently available in the state. The Air National Guard has also moved several of its aircraft to Austin from Houston as a precaution.

In Florida, Hurricane Rita caused no major structural damage in Key West, but some flooding was reported. About 7,000 customers in the Florida Keys lost power and crews were working to restore it by the end of the day Wednesday. Residents who evacuated Key West were being allowed back Wednesday, while tourists were scheduled to return Friday.

Meanwhile in New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin had a mandatory evacuation order in effect Wednesday for the most of the city, including the French Quarter, the central business district and Uptown. But on Wednesday the city remained filled with contractors, cleaners and military personnel driving down streets without working traffic lights.

The mayor said on Tuesday that as many as 500 buses were ready to evacuate the few thousand citizens who may remain. About two dozen people who were evacuating because of Hurricane Rita arrived on Wednesday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where tens of thousands of people were stranded for days after Hurricane Katrina.

On Wednesday, each person was welcomed by six military troops who offered water and ready-to-eat meals. Then they were checked for weapons, asked whether they needed medical assistance and put on a bus, idling with air-conditioning and television until it was full enough to depart, either to Baton Rouge or elsewhere. Several people said they were evacuating for a second time, some after returning to find their homes damaged and without power.

Still, after days of worry that Hurricane Rita would strike New Orleans, there was some sense of relief that it was heading west, reducing the potential damage to the devastated city.

"We're watching Rita," said Sally Forman, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "We don't have a huge population in our city, but I think that the mandatory evacuation is working."

While New Orleans braced for the possibility more disruption, communities in Texas were also on edge Wednesday. South of Galveston in Matagorda County, Sheriff James Mitchell said that his office would not respond to calls in evacuated areas and that parents would be subject to criminal charges for endangerment of a child if they did not remove their children from the path of the storm.

Longtime residents in Houston remembered the ravages of the last hurricane to strike the city, Hurricane Alicia, in August 1983. Although barely a Category 3 storm, it was responsible for six deaths and devastated the downtown skyline with 80 m.p.h. winds, shattering hundreds of windows and leaving the streets ankle-deep in glass.

Throughout Wednesday, emergency measures were widely and hurriedly put into effect in Houston and along the coast. Schools, colleges, museums and other public institutions announced shutdowns starting Thursday. Prison inmates, hospital patients, nursing home residents and other vulnerable populations were evacuated from low-lying areas, and stores were stripped of bottled water, batteries, plywood and other emergency supplies. Long lines formed at banks, some of which restricted withdrawals to $500 at a time.

Galveston was perhaps more nervous than any other city, having just marked the 105th anniversary of the great storm of 1900, which killed more than 6,000 residents and remains the deadliest natural disaster in the nation's history. Although Galveston largely rebuilt itself and raised the elevation of parts of the island, the storm contributed to the city's decline from a bustling center for shipping and finance to a somewhat sleepy tourist destination.

"This one could be bigger than 1900, which was just a Category 3," said Tom Weaver, 60, as workers boarded windows of his business, Scratch and Dent Furniture. "If it hits us, mark my words, there will be looting. There's two types of people in this world, those that work and those that steal from those that work."

Most of Galveston was eerily empty by early Wednesday evening, with even a team of nine officials from the Federal Emergency Management Administration leaving the city. The FEMA officials, who had been assisting evacuees from Louisiana, said they had been ordered by their managers to leave Galveston.

At the University of Texas Medical Branch, a complex consisting of six hospitals, 320 of its 370 patients had been evacuated by early Wednesday evening either by ambulance or aircraft to hospitals across Texas, Marsha Canright, a spokeswoman, said. The state corrections department Wednesday also evacuated another 70 inmates from the medical center's prison hospital, Ms. Canright said.

"This hospital has been here for 114 years," she said. "It's never been evacuated. This is the first time ever."

In a span of four hours Wednesday morning, the 175 residents of Edgewater Retirement Community, which sits along the city's seawall, were evacuated on chartered buses and ambulances, said Barbara Williams, the residence's assistant administrator. They were taken to similar facilities in Huntsville and Lufkin.

"This is not something that is a reactionary thing to Katrina," Ms. Williams said. "We just simply have always had a plan for evacuation for a hurricane."

Some people in Galveston said they had no idea when they might be able to return to the city, which has 60,000 residents. Saúl Aucancela, the owner of a small market selling products from Mexico, said he was planning to drive to Reynosa, a border city in northern Mexico some eight hours to the south, to escape the storm.

"I'm placing my fate in God's hands," Mr. Aucancela, 55, said in Spanish as he finished nailing plywood on the wall of his store to protect his windows.

His 18 employees had already left Galveston for refuge inland.

"I want to go to a place that isn't too expensive if I have to stay there a while," he said.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Ralph Blumenthal and Maureen Balleza in Houston, Thayer Evans in Galveston, William Yardley in New Orleans, Andrew C. Revkin in New York, Eric Schmitt in Washington, and Terry Aguayo in Miami.

    Gulf Hurricane of Top Strength Menaces Texas, NYT, 22.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/22/national/nationalspecial/22storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Still Sheltered,

Evacuees Add Novel Touches

 

September 22, 2005
The New York Times
By RICK LYMAN and SUSAN SAULNY

 

HOUMA, La., Sept. 21 - Eloise Juneau does not need a calendar to tell how long she has been living in a shelter. Any mirror does just fine. Her blond hair has turned silvery at the roots, a reminder that it has been almost four weeks since she has been able to dye it.

Still, over that time she and her boyfriend have gone from sleeping on the bare floor of the Civic Center in Houma, about an hour southwest of New Orleans, to building a makeshift bedroom complete with queen-size mattress, lounge chairs and a place to hang their clothes. They call it The Hilton.

At the other end of the state, the floor of the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Shreveport is a grid of mattresses and family encampments, alive with the flicker of donated televisions and the sounds of scampering children. The walkways between the beds have been marked off with white tape, and each path has been named for a street in New Orleans - Bourbon, Canal, Hope - so people have an address to describe where they sleep.

The initial, numbing shock of seeing the world upended has begun to subside for many evacuees, according to interviews in 16 shelters over the last week across the length and breadth of Louisiana. Instead, as the days turn into weeks and approach a month, a kind of normalcy has begun to creep in, a new life requiring novel strategies and fresh uncertainties.

Children are in school. Bank accounts have been opened. Sleep spaces on coliseum floors have moved from habitats to homes. The daily schedule of church visits, hot meals, mail calls and A.A. meetings has become as familiar as old neighborhood routines.

And for many of the evacuees, who expected to be in shelters for only a few days, those routines have led to a creeping sense of dread that they will not get out of the shelters for weeks, perhaps months. What was supposed to be a transitory phase in their lives is beginning to take on an awful feeling of permanency.

"Things are moving so much quicker at the shelters in Texas," said Deirdre Cheavious, 32, who is staying at the Health and Physical Education Building at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. "Here, it's like a turtle."

Her boyfriend, Mike Williams, 41, shook his head ruefully. "Welcome to Louisiana," he said.

Federal emergency officials said this week that there were still 71,280 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in more than 650 shelters scattered across the nation. More than 40 percent of them, or 30,650, were in the 317 shelters still operating in Louisiana.

There has been a steady trickle of evacuees moving out of the shelters over the last two weeks, some into hotels, others into housing that they have found, either on their own or with the help of church groups and others. The trickle might have become a surge, relief officials said, if not for the scarcity of available housing in the state. For the most part, food and daily necessities are plentiful, but promised money from the federal government and the Red Cross has been maddeningly slow to arrive. Almost everywhere, the greatest need is for places to live - apartments, houses, mobile homes, anything to get out of the shelters.

And now, state officials say, they will be moving thousands from shelters south of Interstate 10 to shelters in the northern part of the state, just to be safe as Hurricane Rita plows through the Gulf of Mexico.

So - just as it did in the hours when Katrina pounded their city - fate continues to roll through the lives of these evacuees at a Category 5 clip. At almost every turn, some combination of chance, luck and split-second decisions continues to determine the future of Katrina's families.

"After we got rescued by the men in the boats, we just got on the first bus," said Veronica Causey, 44. "We didn't know where it was going."

It was going to Shreveport. And after two weeks on a pair of mattresses on the floor of the Hirsch Coliseum, Ms. Causey and her two sons were packing up to move into a three-bedroom house found for them by a local church group. Shreveport, they have decided, is their new home.

"We're gonna start over," she said. "I can do ironing, mend clothes, do some cooking. I need to find a new church. I live in Shreveport now."

Margaret Trotter came to the shelter in Natchitoches because her daughter was beginning college there. But her husband fled the city by air and ended up in Atlanta, and another daughter caught a bus at the Superdome and is living in Houston.

"It all depended on how you got out and which bus you got on," she said.

A few days ago, two empty buses showed up at the Shreveport shelter from Lincoln, Neb. After a pep talk from church leaders who came with the buses, all about the joys of life on the Great Plains, a few dozen people collected their belongings, clambered aboard and headed north. They're Cornhuskers now.

A day or two earlier, two busloads left the Rapides Coliseum in Alexandria, La., for new lives and jobs in Indianapolis, increasing the world's supply of Hoosiers by about three dozen.

"We had a bus take people up to Kentucky and Ohio," said Clyde Davis, manager of the sprawling shelter in the Lake Charles Civic Center, where nearly 2,000 people are spread across three levels. "And there were 19 people who left on a bus this morning. I forget where they're headed."

Those who remain in the system have to deal with shelters that vary widely in quality. Some run more smoothly than others, and their mood is often set by the personalities of the Red Cross volunteers or church leaders running them. Some shelters feature regular live music, computer rooms and big-screen televisions. Others do without mattresses and even the most basic comforts of life.

Evacuees in Abita Springs, a small town on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, live in a dank school gymnasium where the power fails regularly and the only working shower is a garden hose suspended from the top of a schoolhouse door. The temporary residents scrub their laundry on a concrete slab or wash their clothes by hand in buckets, laying them to dry over the top of a chain link fence.

"It's rough, it really is," said Joyce Bird Manguno, 74. "And it's monotonous. You have nothing to do. You wash your clothes over and over, because there's nothing else to do."

These smaller ones are known as popcorn shelters - "Because they pop up here and there," Mr. Davis explained - and the authorities are eager to close them down gradually and consolidate the remaining evacuees in one of the larger sites.

"But it can be hard to get people out of the popcorns," Mr. Davis said.

Already, the number of evacuees has dwindled, as people gradually move out of the shelters and into local housing or head out of state.

At the shelter in the Abita Springs Middle School, there were about 300 people just after the storm hit. But a few days ago, there were only 15 left. And in Lake Charles, at one of the state's largest shelters, there were 3,300 evacuees at the height, but only 1,972 by early this week.

"We don't like to call them evacuees," said Cathy Little, who quit her job as a hairdresser to become the de facto floor manager at the sprawling Shreveport shelter. "We call them guests."

It is Ms. Little who gets on the loudspeaker every morning to rouse her guests - "Mommas, it's time to wake up your babies," she calls out - and she spends her day patrolling the grid of human nests.

"The question is, how do you get out of the shelter?" asked Mr. Williams, who worked at an air-conditioning company in New Orleans and is getting pretty sick of the same four walls of the shelter in Natchitoches. "The trick is to be in the right place at the right time, but how do you do that?"

There are always rumors about where apartments can be found, and a steady stream of people offering accommodations - and sometimes jobs - in places far away. But the reality is a daily struggle to find a dwindling number of places.

"You're pretty much left on your own to figure it out," said Arie Floys, 23, at a shelter in Alexandria. "I find, as soon as I give the landlords my cellphone number, which has a New Orleans area code, they say nothing's available. I think they're afraid we'll just stay a little while and then take off back for New Orleans."

Church groups also show up at the shelters to offer help and housing, and there are dozens of success stories. But some residents said they suspected that the religious groups tended to gravitate to those who shared their faith.

"If you aren't religious, they don't want to talk to you," Mr. Williams said.

And there are some who say they will be sad to leave the shelter - reluctant to lose a second neighborhood in less than a month.

Jeanette Houston, living in a small shelter at a school in Hahnville, just west of New Orleans, said she was depressed when she first got there. But after a few weeks, she says she has a network of friends that almost rivals what she left behind in New Orleans.

"I got to meet a lot of good people just sitting here talking," said Ms. Houston, who worked in a nursery. "I sit here in this gym watching the kids run around, and it's like being in front of my door."

In the meantime, fate keeps asserting itself.

"I got this lady who says she'll fly me to Indiana and give me a place to live and a job," said Larry Fleming, 27. "But I also have a bid out on an apartment here in Alexandria."

He has decided to let chance decide. If he gets the apartment, he will stay in Alexandria. If not, he will hop on a plane to Indiana. Frankly, he said, it could go either way.

"You know, last Christmas we had snow in New Orleans," Mr. Fleming said. "And we never ever have snow in New Orleans, so it was really weird.

"But this storm? Man, this storm has been scarier than Christmas."

    Still Sheltered, Evacuees Add Novel Touches, NYT, 22.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/22/national/nationalspecial/22shelter.html

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Compares

Responses to Hurricane and Terrorism

 

September 22, 2005
The New York Times

By DAVID E. SANGER

 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 - President Bush on Wednesday for the first time linked the American response to terrorism and its response to Hurricane Katrina, declaring that the United States is emerging a stronger nation from both challenges, and saying that terrorists look at the storm's devastation "and wish they had caused it."

Mr. Bush's speech, at a luncheon for the Republican Jewish Coalition, appeared to be part of a White House strategy to restore the luster of strong leadership that Mr. Bush enjoyed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that administration officials fear he has lost in the faltering response to the hurricane.

Mr. Bush himself has never publicly compared his role after the 2001 attacks to his role now in the rebuilding effort on the Gulf Coast or in the preparations for the landfall of Hurricane Rita. But the White House recently described at length how deeply he was involved in calling governors and federal officials to make sure that relief efforts and preparations for Hurricane Rita were carefully coordinated.

White House officials have talked about how he has used the secure video system at the White House, which was installed to let him talk to commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq, to speak with federal officials in Louisiana and other states.

Until the speech on Wednesday, Mr. Bush had kept the issues of terrorism, Iraq and the hurricane separate. But the public has not: polls show declining approval of Mr. Bush's handling of both Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. By suggesting for the first time that America's enemies were pleased to see the devastation caused by the hurricane, he appeared to be linking the country's natural and human challengers.

Mr. Bush said he had been "thinking a lot" about the comparisons between the response to the attacks in New York and Washington, and the storm devastation. "We look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break," he said. Turning the subject to terrorists, he said: "They're the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it. We're in a war against these people."

In weaving the themes, Mr. Bush said that just as the United States would not let an act of nature blow the nation off course, it would not let the acts of terrorsts drive it out of Iraq. "No matter how many car bombs there are, these terrorists cannot stop the march of freedom in Iraq," he told the luncheon crowd, which include current and former members of his administration and some of his larger campaign donors.

As Mr. Bush spoke in downtown Washington, some of his aides and members of Congress were speculating that the cost of responding to Hurricane Katrina would almost certainly affect the war in Iraq.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been critical of the administration's war policy, emerged Tuesday from a meeting with administration officials saying that the White House had not been specific about how it would offset the costs of the federal storm relief.

But inside the administration, a senior diplomat involved in the Iraq effort, who would not allow his name to be used because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that it was hard for him to imagine "Congress spending more on rebuilding schools in Iraq before they rebuild schools in New Orleans."

Mr. Bush affixed no numbers to his Gulf Coast rebuilding plan, saying only, "We're going to help ensure that the communities emerge stronger and better."

He reiterated proposals he made last Thursday from New Orleans, including the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone.

"Somebody said the other day, well, that's a tax break," Mr. Bush said. "That region is going to have zero income anyway. There's nothing there, in many parts of it. It makes sense to prove economic incentives for jobs to exist."

    Bush Compares Responses to Hurricane and Terrorism, NYT, 22.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/22/national/nationalspecial/22bush.html

 

 

 

 

 

Rita heads for Texas

as Category 5 hurricane

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 11:19 PM ET
Reuters
By Mark Babineck

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita strengthened on Wednesday into a powerful, intensely dangerous Category 5 storm as it headed toward the Texas coast and prompted evacuation orders for more than a million people.

The storm had grown into the third most intense Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by internal pressure, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane center said Rita was "a potentially catastrophic" Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds rising to 175 mph (281 kph) over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That matched the peak strength over water of last month's devastating Hurricane Katrina, which hit land as a Category 4 storm with 145-mph (233-kph) winds.

A hurricane watch was issued for the U.S. Gulf Coast from Fort Mansfield Texas, to Cameron, Louisiana. Rita was expected to come ashore late on Friday or early on Saturday as a "major hurricane ... at (Category 3) or higher," hurricane center forecaster Robbie Berg said.

President George W. Bush declared emergencies for Texas and Louisiana.

"Federal, state and local governments are coordinating their efforts to get ready," said Bush, who was heavily criticized for an ill-prepared federal response to Hurricane Katrina last month that killed more than 1,000 people.

"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst," Bush said.

Rita lashed the Florida Keys on Tuesday but did little damage to the vulnerable Florida islands.

Rita's path included the Texas coast southwest of Galveston, where in 1900 at least 8,000 people died in the deadliest recorded U.S. hurricane.

Just last month, Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and killed at least 1,037 people.

Financial markets reacted immediately to news the storm had gained strength, with the prospect of more destruction and oil-supply interruptions affecting everything from stocks and the dollar to oil prices.

 

MASSIVE EVACUATION ORDERED

Galveston, a city of about 58,000 people located on a barrier island, began evacuating residents on Tuesday. More than 50 miles inland, Houston Mayor Bill White ordered an evacuation of residents in areas prone to storm surges or major floods.

Officials said as many as 1.2 million people were expected to start leaving Houston, America's fourth most populous city with about 2 million residents and an international center for the oil industry. The city was the most popular destination for evacuees from Katrina, which displaced about 1 million people, including nearly all of New Orleans's 450,000 residents.

Stores in Houston quickly ran out of emergency supplies, plywood and food. The last major hurricane to hit Houston was Alicia in 1983, a Category 3 storm that killed 22 people. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 caused extensive flooding in the city and killed more than 40 people across the United States.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged Texans along a 300-mile (483 km) stretch comprising most of the state's coastline, to leave. He said nursing home residents already were being evacuated.

The Mexican government issued a tropical storm watch for the country's northeast coast from Rio San Fernando northward.

"Everyone's scared, that's why we're all leaving," Galveston Island resident Maria Stephens said, citing television images of Katrina's devastation. "I saw the people at the shelters and the bodies floating in the water. I don't want that to be my family."

NASA prepared to evacuate its Johnson Space Center in Houston and turn over control of the International Space Station to its Russian partners.

About 1,100 Katrina evacuees still in Houston's two mass shelters were being sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Some Houston hospitals were evacuated.

New Orleans, flooded by Katrina, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready.

State officials said an estimated 9,700 residents of Cameron Parish on the Louisiana-Texas border were told to leave. They added that 2,662 people housed in shelters after Katrina were relocated to facilities farther north in the state, and 5,054 more were expected to be moved.

A FEMA spokesman said Rita was not expected to re-flood New Orleans if the storm stayed on its current westward course.

 

GOVERNMENTS, OIL INDUSTRY RESPOND

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Rita's center was about 570 miles east-southeast of Galveston and moving toward the west near 9 mph (14 kph), the hurricane center said.

Taking lessons from problems after Katrina hit, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said authorities had positioned supplies and were checking on communications systems. The government sent Coast Guard Rear Adm. Larry Hereth to Texas to coordinate the response.

"I hope that by doing what the state officials and mayors are doing now ... getting people who are invalids out of the way, encouraging people to leave early, that when the storm hits, there will be property damage but hopefully there won't be a lot of people to rescue," Chertoff told MSNBC.

Oil companies just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved closer. Four Texas refineries were shut down, even as four refineries remained shut in Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina.

Together with the 5 percent of U.S. refinery capacity shut since Katrina, the four closed Texas refineries add up to about 11.5 percent of U.S. oil refining.

A U.S. energy official said the risk of flooding at the Texas refineries was less than what Katrina posed in Louisiana, because they were on higher ground.

U.S. light crude oil rose $1.15 per barrel to $67.35. The dollar weakened and U.S. stock prices amid concerns about the storm's impact on energy costs and consumer spending.

(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Adam Entous and Caren Bohan in Washington, and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge)

    Rita heads for Texas as Category 5 hurricane, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T031922Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Rita strengthens to Category 5 Hurricane

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:01 PM ET
Reuters
By Mark Babineck

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita strengthened on Wednesday into a powerful, intensely dangerous Category 5 storm as it headed toward the Texas coast and prompted evacuation orders for more than a million people.

The storm had grown into the third most intense Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by internal pressure, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane watch was issued for the U.S. Gulf Coast from Fort Mansfield Texas, to Cameron, Louisiana. Rita was expected to come ashore late on Friday or early on Saturday as a "major hurricane ... at (Category 3) or higher," hurricane center forecaster Robbie Berg said.

President George W. Bush declared emergencies for Texas and Louisiana.

"Federal, state and local governments are coordinating their efforts to get ready," said Bush, who was heavily criticized for an ill-prepared federal response to Hurricane Katrina last month that killed more than 1,000 people.

"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst," Bush said.

The hurricane center said Rita had become "an extremely dangerous" Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 165 mph (265 kph) and higher gusts as it moved over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rita lashed the Florida Keys on Tuesday but did little damage to the vulnerable Florida islands.

Rita's path included the Texas coast southwest of Galveston, where in 1900 at least 8,000 people died in the deadliest recorded U.S. hurricane.

Just last month, Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and killed at least 1,037 people.

Financial markets reacted immediately to news the storm had gained strength, with the prospect of more destruction and oil-supply interruptions affecting everything from stocks and the dollar to oil prices.

 

MASSIVE EVACUATION ORDERED

Galveston, a city of about 58,000 people located on a barrier island, began evacuating residents on Tuesday. More than 50 miles inland, Houston Mayor Bill White ordered an evacuation of residents in areas prone to storm surges or major floods.

Officials said as many as 1.2 million people were expected to start leaving Houston, America's fourth most populous city with about 2 million residents, and an international center for the oil industry. The city was the most popular destination for evacuees from Katrina, which displaced about 1 million people, including nearly all of New Orleans's 450,000 residents.

Stores in Houston quickly ran out of emergency supplies, plywood and food. The last major hurricane to hit Houston was Alicia in 1983, a Category 3 storm that killed 22 people. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 caused extensive flooding in the city and killed more than 40 people across the United States.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged Texans along a 300-mile stretch comprising most of the state's coastline, to leave. He said nursing home residents already were being evacuated.

The Mexican government issued a tropical storm watch for the country's northeast coast from Rio San Fernando northward.

"Everyone's scared, that's why we're all leaving," Galveston Island resident Maria Stephens said, citing television images of Katrina's devastation. "I saw the people at the shelters and the bodies floating in the water. I don't want that to be my family."

NASA prepared to evacuate its Johnson Space Center in Houston and turn over control of the International Space Station to its Russian partners.

About 1,100 Katrina evacuees still in Houston's two mass shelters were being sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Some Houston hospitals were evacuated.

New Orleans, flooded by Katrina, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready.

State officials said an estimated 9,700 residents of Cameron Parish on the Louisiana-Texas border were told to leave. They added that 2,662 people housed in shelters after Katrina were relocated to facilities farther north in the state, and 5,054 more were expected to be moved.

A FEMA spokesman said Rita was not expected to re-flood New Orleans if the storm stayed on its current westward course.

 

GOVERMENTS, OIL INDUSTRY RESPOND

At 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), Rita's center was about 580 miles east-southeast of Galveston and moving toward the west near 13 mph (21 kph), the hurricane center said.

Taking lessons from problems after Katrina hit, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said authorities had positioned supplies and were checking on communications systems. The government sent Coast Guard Rear Adm. Larry Hereth to Texas to coordinate the response.

"I hope that by doing what the state officials and mayors are doing now ... getting people who are invalids out of the way, encouraging people to leave early, that when the storm hits, there will be property damage but hopefully there won't be a lot of people to rescue," Chertoff told MSNBC.

Oil companies just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved closer. Four Texas refineries were shut down, even as four refineries remained shut in Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina.

Together with the 5 percent of U.S. refinery capacity shut since Katrina, the four closed Texas refineries add up to about 11.5 percent of U.S. oil refining.

A U.S. energy official said the risk of flooding at the Texas refineries was less than what Katrina posed in Louisiana, because they were on higher ground.

U.S. light crude oil rose $1.15 per barrel to $67.35. The dollar weakened and U.S. stock prices amid concerns about the storm's impact on energy costs and consumer spending.

(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Adam Entous and Caren Bohan in Washington, and Allan Dowd in Baton Rouge)

    Rita strengthens to Category 5 Hurricane, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T020107Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Bush steps up Rita response

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 9:37 PM ET
Reuters
By Adam Entous

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Still under a cloud over the slow response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush and top aides rushed to assure the public on Wednesday that they would get it right the second time around with Hurricane Rita.

Bush issued pre-emptive emergency declarations for Texas and Louisiana, while Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and acting FEMA Director David Paulison fanned out to tout improved federal preparations and coordination with state and local officials.

Bush said he had spoken to the governors of Texas and Louisiana about preparations for Rita, which grew into a monster Category 5 storm and took aim at Texas, Bush's home state.

Chertoff said there was a push to evacuate people in affected areas as early as possible. Paulison said federal and state officials were in almost hourly contact and that one of the important things the Federal Emergency Management Agency was doing this time was working with the Pentagon ahead of time to preposition supplies.

"We're going to make sure this time, to make sure we have all those resources available," Paulison said.

White House officials were already laying the groundwork for Bush to visit or get close to the disaster zone soon after Rita passes, leaving his schedule open for Saturday and Sunday.

Bush came under fire for waiting several days before visiting New Orleans after Katrina devastated that city. He has since returned five times to the disaster zone.

Administration officials are counting on a more aggressive, hands-on approach to Hurricane Rita to help counter criticism of their slow and confused response to Katrina. Since that storm hit on August 29, Bush has seen his overall approval ratings drop to new lows.

A smoother response to Rita might help Bush politically, but is unlikely to pull him out of his post-Katrina slump, analysts said.

"It does supplant the memories (of Katrina), assuming he does well," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas. "But it might be a little hyperbolic to call it a second chance."

"This gives him more opportunities to move up in political terms," said George Washington University presidential scholar Stephen Hess. But he added, "He's tarnished, and you don't re-buff yourself with one exercise."

"It's too little too late," said historian Douglas Brinkley. "He's still going to get the blame."

 

'READY FOR THE WORST'

Bush's emergency declarations for Texas and Louisiana authorized the Homeland Security Department and FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

"Federal, state and local governments are coordinating their efforts to get ready," Bush said. "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst."

For a second day running, Paulison held a media briefing to read out a list of actions the agency was taking to prepare for Rita.

The White House said truckloads of water, ice and food were being prepositioned in Texas. Officials said the Coast Guard had rescue helicopters at the ready in Houston and Corpus Christi.

"Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as seamless as possible, and that's what we're working to do," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

One of the horrors in the aftermath of Katrina was the discovery of nursing home residents who had been left behind and drowned.

Ahead of Rita, Chertoff said, authorities were "making provisions for people in nursing homes or hospitals to get them out so they are out of harm's way and don't need to be rescued."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Deborah Charles)

    Bush steps up Rita response, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-22T013544Z_01_KWA181330_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-BUSH.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Rita

upgraded to Category 5 storm

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 4:13 PM ET
Reuters

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 5 storm on Wednesday as it headed for the Texas coast later this week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.

The storm, packing winds of 165 mph, was projected to make landfall on Saturday after threatening oil and natural gas facilities in the Gulf Coast region.

    Hurricane Rita upgraded to Category 5 storm, R, 21.5.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-21T201319Z_01_KWA172462_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA-URGENT.xml

 

 

 

 


Texas Evacuates Coastal Areas

as Hurricane Rita Strengthens

 

September 21, 2005
The New York Times

By WILLIAM YARDLEY and JENNIFER BAYOT

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 21 - Hurricane Rita approached Category 5 intensity this afternoon, the deadliest storm designation, as it churned through the Gulf of Mexico on a course that could send it over coastal Texas and southwest Louisiana this weekend.

The storm whipped up winds of 150 miles an hour, just 5 miles an hour shy of the 155 m.p.h. that distinguishes a Category 5 hurricane. Hurricane Katrina, by comparison, was a Category 4 storm when it devastated parts of the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Aug. 29.

Only Tuesday morning, Hurricane Rita was designated a tropical storm with scarcely half its current strength. The reach of its power is expected to widen over the next day or two, beyond the 45 miles that that its hurricane-strength winds can reach and the 140 miles that tropical-storm strength its winds can reach.

The storm continues to head west toward the northwest Gulf of Mexico at a pace of 13 miles an hour, slightly slower than the 15 miles an hour reported on Tuesday.

Officials in Texas, fearing the worst after seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, today told residents in coastal Texas counties, including Harris, Galveston and Matagorda, to evacuate to Huntsville, Lufkin and College Station.

This morning, the mayor of Houston, Bill White, urged residents to evacuate from the expected path of the hurricane, especially from flood plains, Bayou waterways and mobile homes. He also called on schools to close on Thursday and Friday and for employers to require only essential staff to report to work on those days.

"We need citizens who may need assistance in evacuating to reach out to friends, family, relatives, neighbors," the mayor said. "There will not be enough government vehicles to go and evacuate everybody in the area" he added, saying the city needed citizens to be a first line of defense and "to do your job and to go out and to actively look for those who may need assistance."

In 1900, Galveston was the scene of the deadliest hurricane on record, when a Category 4 hurricane killed 8,000 people.

In Lufkin, preparations were made to house evacuees in a campground and a church and other shelters, including schools and a civic center. "Well, we're just going by projections but we have to plan for ten thousand," said Ted Lovett with the Lufkin Fire Department, according to the local KTRE television station Web site. The sheriff of Matagorda County is saying that anyone who chooses to ride out the storm with children will be prosecuted for child endangerment, KHOU-TV reported.President Bush today urged residents to heed the evacuation orders.

"Federal, state and local governments are coordinating their efforts to get ready," he said in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. "Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for New Orleans and Galveston. I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities and follow them.

"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst."

A meteorologist with the weather service, Timothy J. Schott, said today that this morning's predictions indicate that Hurricane Rita's eye will most likely make landfall from south Texas through the southwest coast of Louisiana in the next two to three days. He also noted that the strength of a hurricane can fluctuate while moving through the gulf.

"It's a very ominous forecast," Mr. Schott said in a telephone interview from the weather service's headquarters in Washington. "The effects are felt well inland not just along the immediate coastlines. About three hundred miles of tropical storm conditions could be felt along the coast and inland."

The head of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, said in an interview on CNN this morning that supplies were being pre-positioned and helicopters were on standby in anticipation of the onslaught of a second storm.

R. David Paulison, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington on Tuesday that 45 truckloads of water, 45 truckloads of ice and 8 truckloads of ready-to-eat meals were being staged in Texas in advance of the storm. Nine urban search and rescue teams and nine disaster medical assistance teams also are to arrive.

The agency, still facing criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina, has more search and rescue teams available in Texas than it did along the Gulf Coast in the advance of Hurricane Katrina. The Texas National Guard has also started withdrawing troops from Louisiana to prepare for landfall by Hurricane Rita, Louisiana National Guard officials said.

About 1,000 Texas troops were recalled, Lt. Michael Odie said.

The Louisiana National Guard is preparing 1,300 troops to respond to Hurricane Rita when it makes landfall, Lt. Col. Pete Schneider said today, and Texas has recalled its entire deployment of 1,500 troops.

"If a request is made and we can staff it, we're going to provide support to our fellow citizens in Texas," Lt. Col. Schneider said.

State social services officials said 9,100 victims of Hurricane Katrina needed to be relocated from their shelters to others in the northern part of the state. The Army Corps of Engineers said today it was closing two canals in New Orleans in preparation for storm surges associated with Hurricane Rita.

In Houston, officials moved evacuees from New Orleans out of the Reliant Arena and sent many of them to Arkansas.In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco asked President Bush on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency for her battered state as it prepares for Hurricane Rita. She requested $10 million in assistance.

The threat of a new storm aligned federal and local authorities in Louisiana, at least publicly, after weeks of tension over the response to Hurricane Katrina.

The official death toll in Louisiana rose to 799. In Mississippi, 219 people died from the storm. In addition, 14 deaths in Florida, 2 in Alabama and 2 in Georgia, brought the total to 1,036.

In New Orleans, mostly empty of residents but with its physical core still vulnerable, the possibility of heavy rain and a storm surge prompted officials to make emergency efforts to bolster its weakened levee system, station 500 buses on its outskirts to evacuate remaining residents and establish a military hospital at the convention center, which just weeks ago was the scene of violence and desperation for thousands of trapped evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin, decided Monday to suspend a staggered reopening of parts of the city. In New Orleans, Mr. Nagin said that perhaps as few as several hundred people were still living in the city's most vulnerable areas, in addition to the thousands of military and emergency workers who had come to help it recover. Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who is leading military efforts in the recovery, emphasized that evacuees taken to the convention center would be quickly transported out of town.

The mayor said officials would be more aggressive in pushing for evacuation today if the storm turns toward the city, but he said they would not force people from their homes. General Honoré said about 14,000 troops in the region would move into shelters capable of withstanding Category 5 storms, the strongest measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The city's weakened levee system could be breached by a storm surge as low as five feet, said Brig. Gen. Robert Crear of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps, which has used sandbags, stones and concrete to seal breaches in several levees, does not expect the levees to be fully repaired until June 1, the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

General Crear said canals with repaired levees were being blocked at Lake Pontchartrain, to prevent pressure from building on the levees. In addition to storm damage, he said that the levees may have been damaged by barges that broke lose during Hurricane Katrina but that he was not certain.

William Yardley reported from New Orleans for this article, and Jennifer Bayot from New York. Reporting was contributed by Christine Hauser, Michael Brick, Abby Goodnough, David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton and Tim O'Hara.

    Texas Evacuates Coastal Areas as Hurricane Rita Strengthens, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/national/nationalspecial/21cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Texans evacuate

as Hurricane Rita gets dangerous

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 4:05 PM ET
Reuters
By Mark Babineck

 

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita took aim at Texas as it grew into a dangerous Category 4 storm on Wednesday, and authorities began to evacuate more than a million people from most of the coast and parts of Houston.

"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we've got to be ready for the worst," said U.S. President George W. Bush, who was heavily criticised for an ill-prepared federal response to Katrina.

Rita's winds increased to 150 mph (241 kph) , just 5 mph (8 kph) below the maximum Category 5 intensity, as it headed into the Gulf of Mexico after lashing the Florida Keys on Tuesday. The storm did little damage to the vulnerable Florida islands.

The upgrade put Rita in the same strength classification as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama last month and killed at least 1,037 people.

Markets reacted immediately, with the prospect of more destruction and oil-supply interruptions affecting everything from stocks and the dollar to oil prices.

The storm was expected to strengthen over the central Gulf but may weaken slightly as it continues west, the National Hurricane Centre said. Rita was expected to make landfall by Saturday "as a major hurricane ... at least Category 3," the centre said.

Rita would most likely hit the Texas coast by Saturday, hitting southwest of Galveston, where in 1900 at least 8,000 people died in the deadliest U.S. hurricane.

Galveston, on a barrier island, began evacuating residents on Tuesday. Further inland, Houston Mayor Bill White ordered an evacuation of residents in areas prone to storm surges or major floods.

As many as 1.2 million people were expected to begin leaving Houston by evening, officials said. Katrina displaced about one million people, including nearly all of New Orleans's 450,000 residents.

Stores in Houston quickly ran out emergency supplies, plywood and food.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged Texans along a 300-mile (483 km) stretch comprising most of the state's coastline, to leave.

"If you're on the coast between Beaumont and Corpus Christi, now's the time to leave," Perry said. He said nursing home residents already were being evacuated.

 

"CHASING US EVERYWHERE"

Maria Stephens helped fellow residents of Galveston Island board evacuation buses and then prepared to drive inland with her husband and their three children.

"Everyone's scared, that's why we're all leaving," she said, citing television images of Katrina's devastation. "I saw the people at the shelters and the bodies floating in the water. I don't want that to be my family."

Stephen Travis was driven out of Biloxi, Mississippi, by Katrina and on Wednesday was leaving a waterfront Galveston hotel. "It definitely feels like they're chasing us everywhere," he said of the hurricanes.

NASA prepared to evacuate its Johnson Space Centre in Houston and turn over control of the International Space Station to its Russian partners.

Taking lessons from problems after Katrina hit, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said authorities had positioned supplies and were checking on communications systems. The government sent Coast Guard Rear Adm. Larry Hereth to Texas to coordinate the response.

"I hope that by doing what the state officials and mayors are doing now ... getting people who are invalids out of the way, encouraging people to leave early, that when the storm hits, there will be property damage but hopefully there won't be a lot of people to rescue," Chertoff told MSNBC.

White, the Houston mayor, urged people with their own transportation to use it because there were not enough government vehicles to get everyone out.

Louisiana declared a state of emergency. New Orleans, flooded by Katrina and considered vulnerable to Rita, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready.

"We're a lot smarter this time around," he said. "We've learnt a lot of hard lessons."

About 1,100 Katrina evacuees still in Houston's two mass shelters were being sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

 

LIKE KATRINA

Rita's centre was about 755 miles east-southeast (1,215 kph) of Corpus Christi, Texas, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). The hurricane was moving at about 13 mph (21 kph), the hurricane centre said.

The centre said Rita had become a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale -- with sustained winds above 135 mph (217 kph) on Wednesday morning.

A major hurricane could send a 20-foot (6-metre) storm surge over the Texas coast.

Oil companies which were just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved closer. Rita's projected path puts it south of some of the major-oil producing areas, and the storm could threaten up 18 Texas refineries, which account for 23 percent of U.S. refining capacity, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

U.S. light crude oil rose $1.15 per barrel to $67.35. The dollar weakened 0.71 percent against the euro, amid concerns that Rita's damage on the heels of Katrina could deal a greater blow to the U.S. economy.

U.S. stock prices also fell, on renewed concerns over the potential effect of high energy costs on profits and consumer spending. The chief executive of major refiner Valero Energy Crop said retail gasoline prices could rebound past $3 per gallon, after a retreat from post-Katrina record highs.

(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Adam Entous and Caren Bohan in Washington)

    Texans evacuate as Hurricane Rita gets dangerous, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-21T200507Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

S&P 500 down for year on oil, Rita

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:11 PM ET
Reuters
By Vivianne Rodrigues

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index slipping into negative territory for the year, as Hurricane Rita gathered strength, reigniting concerns about higher energy costs on corporate profits.

Avon Products Inc. shares plunged 11.4 percent to $27.10 on the New York Stock Exchange after it became the latest cosmetics company to cut its profit outlook, due in part to Hurricane Katrina and higher fuel costs.

Shares of conglomerate General Electric Co. and other companies sensitive to swings in energy prices also declined. Property and casualty insurance companies, including Allstate Corp., also slid on concerns about Rita's potential for devastation as it was upgraded to a Category 4 storm.

"We have another hurricane approaching, oil prices rising and several companies warning about slower growth," said Tim Crimmins, an equity trader at Lord, Abbett & Co. "It's not a surprise to see demand for stocks down a bit across the board today."

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 98 points, or 0.93 percent, at 10,383.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 9.94 points, or 0.81 percent, at 1,211.40, just below its year-end 2004 close of 1,211.92. And the technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index was down 22.79 points, or 1.07 percent, at 2,108.54.

"We've been stuck in a narrow trading range in the S&P for a couple of months now," Crimmins added. "If we erase this year's gains and stay lower for a couple of days, it may indicate a bit of a correction."

U.S. crude oil futures for November delivery rose $1 to $67.10 a barrel. Rita was raised to the same strength that Hurricane Katrina had when it slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast last month, hurting oil production.

Higher oil prices added to nervousness in the market following the Federal Reserve's decision on Tuesday to raise interest rates again.

U.S. weekly oil inventory data from the Energy Information Administration showed an unexpected decline of 300,000 barrels in crude stockpiles. Analysts had expected a modest increase.

GE shares slid nearly 1 percent to $33.54 on the NYSE, while the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell 1.4 percent to $42.61. Declines in Wal-Mart helped push an S&P index of retailers down 1.3 percent.

Allstate's shares fell 2.9 percent to $51.58 on the NYSE.

Shares in Morgan Stanley, the biggest securities company by market value, fell 0.8 percent to $52. The Wall Street firm on Wednesday posted higher quarterly earnings before a $1 billion charge from the planned sales of its aircraft-leasing unit.

Home builder Lennar Corp. said third-quarter earnings would top Wall Street estimates, with new home orders holding up. Its shares rose 1.6 percent to $54.94 on the NYSE.

Package carrier FedEx Corp. reported its fiscal first-quarter profit rose. Its shares jumped 7 percent to $82.49 on the NYSE.

On Nasdaq, Intel Corp. shares rose 0.3 percent to $24.55 after Merrill Lynch & Co. upgraded the company to "buy" from "neutral."

    S&P 500 down for year on oil, Rita, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=businessNews&storyID=2005-09-21T181130Z_01_HO939654_RTRUKOC_0_US-MARKETS-STOCKS.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Experts see Rita pushing fuel over $3

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:18 PM ET
Reuters
By Randy Fabi

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita will push U.S. gasoline prices over $3 a gallon again, but the rise is likely to be limited as the higher pump price caps consumer demand, oil analysts said on Wednesday.

Rita's impact on oil refineries and oil production could be a "national disaster," according to the head of the nation's biggest maker of gasoline, Valero Energy Corp..

"If it hits the refineries, and we're short refining capacity, you're going to see gasoline prices well over $3 a gallon at the pump," said Valero Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Greehey.

The Gulf Coast, which accounts for about a third of domestic crude oil production, braced for the second major hurricane in less than a month.

Rita was upgraded on Wednesday to a powerful Category 4 storm as it headed across the Gulf of Mexico on a course that could take it to Texas, home to a fourth of U.S. oil refinery production.

Federal officials said 18 Texas oil refineries stood in Rita's projected path, which account for 23 percent of U.S. refining capacity.

The storm comes just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina damaged numerous rigs, platforms and refineries near the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

But analysts did not expect Rita to have the same impact on U.S. retail gasoline prices as Katrina.

A week after Katrina, the national retail price for regular unleaded gasoline jumped 46 cents to hit a record high of $3.07 a gallon, nipping at the inflation-adjusted high of $3.12 reached in early 1981.

Prices have since fallen to $2.79 per gallon.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said gasoline prices could bounce back above $3 after Rita, but the prices will not be sustainable.

"After Katrina, we're better equipped to analyze the potential for Rita and I don't think the upside response will be as exaggerated," he said.

Dave Costello of the U.S. Energy Information Administration said prices in time will fall and stay well below $3 as many oil facilities damaged by Katrina return to normal operations.

"We think gasoline prices ought to average $2.50 a gallon or less by November or December," he said.

Even under the worst-case scenario, three analysts said, they did not see gasoline prices above $4 a gallon.

 

CONSUMER DEMAND WANES

Bill O'Grady, an analyst with A.G. Edwards, said gasoline prices may not reach unprecedented levels as consumer demand falters.

"We could see hoards of people on bicycles," he said. "We just don't know, because we've never been there."

Current gasoline prices have already stunted demand. The EIA said gasoline demand in the past month fell 2.1 percent below the same period last year to 9 million barrels per day.

Analysts also said oil companies would do everything in their power to keep gasoline prices affordable to mute growing criticism from Washington.

Democrats have asked Congress to pass legislation to probe the industry on profiteering, and limit companies from boosting gas prices during a major supply disruption.

"It will empower the federal government to end price gouging by oil companies," said Rep. Bob Etheridge, a North Carolina Democrat.

(Additional reporting by Julie Vorman in Washington and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio)

    Experts see Rita pushing fuel over $3, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-21T181738Z_01_MOR165018_RTRUKOC_0_US-RITA-GASOLINE.xml

 

 

 

 

 

Houston Mayor Urges Partial Evacuation

 

September 21, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:05 p.m. ET

 

HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston's mayor is urging residents most at risk from Hurricane Rita to start getting out.

Bill White says people living in areas prone to flooding or threatened by a storm surge should plan to leave. He also urges evacuation for people in mobile homes or other buildings that ''common sense'' would indicate are too weak for the storm.

White says businesses and schools should plan to be closed tomorrow and Friday to enable people to leave.

The mayor says the government doesn't have the capacity to evacuate everyone, so people should help one another. He says ''neighbor caring for neighbor'' is the first line of defense.

White says anyone who doesn't have a car or way to get out should reach out to friends, family or neighbors. He says anyone who still can't find a ride should contact the government for help.

    Houston Mayor Urges Partial Evacuation, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Rita-Houston-HK1.html?pagewanted=print

 

 

 

 

 

Rita strengthens, aims at Texas

 

Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:01 PM ET
Reuters
By Jeff Franks

 

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita took aim at Texas as it grew into a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday and authorities urged residents in Galveston, Houston and other vulnerable areas to leave.

"This is a big storm and it's going to have an impact along the entire coast," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Fox News during a round of morning television appearances.

Rita's winds increased to 140 mph (225 kph) as it headed into the Gulf of Mexico after lashing the Florida Keys on Tuesday. The storm did not get close enough to reach the vulnerable chain of islands with its most destructive forces.

The upgrade put Rita in the same strength classification as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama last month.

It could reach the maximum Category 5 in the central Gulf then weaken slightly as it moved west. It was expected to make landfall "as a major hurricane ... at least Category 3," the National Hurricane Center said.

The intensified storm sparked concern in financial markets that the new storm could wreak as much damage as Katrina's assault on the U.S. Gulf Coast last month.

Rita's most likely future track would take it to the Texas coast by the end of the week, hitting shore southwest of Galveston, where in 1900 at least 8,000 people died in the deadliest U.S. hurricane.

Galveston began evacuating residents on Tuesday, and further inland, Houston Mayor Bill White told residents in areas prone to storm surges or major floods to prepare to leave.

"Hurricane Rita on its present course poses a risk to Houston and the whole Houston region," White said.

Taking lessons from the problem-plagued response to Katrina, Chertoff said authorities had positioned supplies, begun making preparations for the early evacuation of people in nursing homes and hospitals and were checking on communications systems. He said the federal government had sent a Coast Guard admiral to Texas to coordinate the response.

"I hope that by doing what the state officials and mayors are doing now, are getting people who are invalids out of the way, encouraging people to leave early, that when the storm hits, there will be property damage but hopefully there won't be a lot of people to rescue," Chertoff told MSNBC.

White urged people with their own transportation to use it because there were not enough government vehicles to get everyone out of vulnerable Houston areas.

 

NEW ORLEANS, READY TO ROLL

With Rita looming, Louisiana declared a state of emergency and New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded when Katrina shattered its protective levees, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready to roll.

"We're a lot smarter this time around," he said. "We've learned a lot of hard lessons."

About 1,100 Hurricane Katrina evacuees still in Houston's two mass shelters faced another evacuation as the city found itself in Rita's possible path. They were being sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

Rita's center was about 755 miles east-southeast (1,215 kph) of Corpus Christi, Texas, at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). The hurricane was headed west into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico at about 13 mph (21 kph), the hurricane center said.

The center said Rita had become a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale -- with sustained winds above 135 mph (217 kph) on Wednesday morning.

"The conditions over the central Gulf are much like they were for Katrina," hurricane center deputy director Ed Rappaport told CNN.

A major hurricane could send a 20-foot (6-meter) storm surge over the Texas coast by Saturday.

Oil companies just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved toward major energy production areas.

The Navy began moving its remaining fleet of Katrina relief vessels, including the Iwo Jima, away from the Gulf Coast to ride out any potential battering from Rita.

U.S. light crude oil rose $1.45 per barrel to $67.65. The dollar 0.85 percent against the euro, and some analysts cited concerns that damage caused by the hurricanes could prompt the Federal Reserve to scale back plans to raise interest rates.

U.S. stock prices also fell, partly in response to the crude oil prices. The chief executive of major refiner Valero Energy Crop said retail gasoline prices could again rise past $3 per gallon.

Residents of the Florida Keys were grateful that Rita merely skirted their area.

"We did not have the flooding I thought we'd have," Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley told reporters. "We were extremely lucky."

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier in Tallahassee, Jane Sutton and Michael Christie in Miami)

    Rita strengthens, aims at Texas, R, 21.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-21T180114Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rita Strengthens to Category 4

as It Moves Across Gulf

 

September 21, 2005
The New York Times
By WILLIAM YARDLEY and ABBY GOODNOUGH

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 21 - Hurricane Rita churned through the Gulf of Mexico this morning on a course that could send it over coastal Texas and southwest Louisiana within days, lashing those areas with dangerous winds and torrential rain and sending tropical storm conditions radiating out for at least 150 miles from the eye.

Residents of Gulf Coast areas are bracing for the landfall of another storm and evacuation plans have been set in motion in those states and this city, which is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Rita strengthened overnight into a Category 4 hurricane, the same ranking on the National Weather Service's hurricane scale as Katrina was when it devastated parts of the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Aug. 29.

A meteorologist with the weather service, Timothy J. Schott, said today that this morning's predictions indicate that Hurricane Rita's eye will most likely make landfall from south Texas up through the southwest coast of Louisiana in the next two to three days.

Though the strength of a hurricane can fluctuate moving through the Gulf, the current expectation is that Hurricane Rita will remain at Category 4 intensity, and its 135-mile-an-hour winds and rain will be felt in all directions from the center when it lands, with tropical storm-force winds extending as far out as 150 miles.

"It's a very ominous forecast," Mr. Schott said in a telephone interview from the weather service's headquarters in Washington. "The effects are felt well inland not just along the immediate coastlines. About three hundred miles of tropical storm conditions could be felt along the coast and inland."

Residents and rescuers have begun evacuating parts of Louisiana and Texas, and this morning, the head of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, said in an interview on CNN that supplies were being pre-positioned and helicopters were on standby in anticipation of the onslaught of a second storm.

The storm churned past the Florida Keys on Tuesday, inflicting less damage than expected as it headed West to the Gulf of Mexico.

From the tip of the Florida peninsula to Galveston, Tex., thousands have left their homes or made plans to, including many who had already fled once, from Hurricane Katrina, and were living in shelters and temporary housing. In Houston, officials moved evacuees from New Orleans out of the Reliant Arena and sent many of them to Arkansas.

In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco asked President Bush on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency for her battered state as it prepares for Hurricane Rita. She requested $10 million in assistance.

Colin McAdie, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said on Tuesday that western Louisiana could also bear the brunt of the storm depending on changes in steering currents.

"It's better not to nail it down too precisely," he said. "Over the next day or so we'll have a better idea."

The threat of a new storm aligned federal and local authorities in Louisiana, at least publicly, after weeks of tension over the response to Hurricane Katrina.

President Bush, who had visited Mississippi earlier, attended a briefing in New Orleans. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush signed legislation to increase the borrowing authority of the government's flood insurance program to $3.5 billion from $1.5 billion to pay claims from Hurricane Katrina.

"All up and down this coastline people are now preparing for what is anticipated to be yet another significant storm," the president said. He said Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen would remain in charge of the federal effort in Louisiana and Mississippi and that "we've got another admiral who is now being stationed in Texas, to coordinate the relief response."

Mr. Bush also praised the New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin, who decided Monday to suspend a staggered reopening of parts of the city.

"He made a wise decision to say to people, be cautious about returning here, because a rain of any amount could cause these levees to break again," the president said.

The mayor, prickly a day earlier under pressure from the president and Admiral Allen to delay the return of residents into parts of the city, gave the admiral a T-shirt at a news conference on Tuesday outside City Hall, where generators still supply power and most key operations have moved across the street to the battered Hyatt Hotel.

Mr. Nagin read the words on the T-shirt: "I love New Orleans."

The official death toll in Louisiana remained at 736. In Mississippi, 219 people died from the storm.

The Associated Press reported that a 72-year-old man, John Lyons, had been found alive in his home in New Orleans. Mr. Lyons's wife, Leola, also 72, was found dead.

In the city, mostly empty of residents but with its physical core still vulnerable, the possibility of heavy rain and a storm surge prompted officials to make emergency efforts to bolster its weakened levee system, station 500 buses on its outskirts to evacuate remaining residents and establish a military hospital at the convention center, which just weeks ago was the scene of violence and desperation for thousands of trapped evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

In Florida, Hurricane Rita lashed Key West as it passed about 50 miles south of the island on Tuesday afternoon, flooding roads, yards and beaches through much of the Keys but not inflicting the severe damage many had feared.

By late afternoon, about 24,000 homes and businesses in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties had no electricity - far fewer than when Hurricane Katrina hit South Florida on Aug. 26, killing 11. In Miami, which suffered only rain squalls, tame winds and minor flooding, officials said government offices and schools would reopen today.

Gov. Jeb Bush said that 2,400 National Guard troops had been mobilized and 2,000 more were on alert in case the storm - the seventh to hit Florida in 13 months - proved devastating. Hospitals and nursing homes in the Keys, eager to avoid the mistakes of New Orleans, evacuated their patients on Monday.

In New Orleans, Mr. Nagin said that perhaps as few as several hundred people were still living in the city's most vulnerable areas, in addition to the thousands of military and emergency workers who had come to help it recover. Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who is leading military efforts in the recovery, emphasized that evacuees taken to the convention center would be quickly transported out of town.

"We're not going back into that convention center and Superdome business," he said, alluding to the days of televised despair when tens of thousands of mostly poor black residents were trapped by floodwaters in the two buildings.

Two busloads of residents were evacuated from the convention center on Tuesday, the mayor said.

The mayor said officials would be more aggressive in pushing for evacuation today if the storm turns toward the city, but he said they would not force people from their homes. General Honoré said about 14,000 troops in the region would move into shelters capable of withstanding Category 5 storms, the strongest measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The city's weakened levee system could be breached by a storm surge as low as five feet, said Brig. Gen. Robert Crear of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps, which has used sandbags, stones and concrete to seal breaches in several levees, does not expect the levees to be fully repaired until June 1, the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

General Crear said canals with repaired levees were being blocked at Lake Pontchartrain, to prevent pressure from building on the levees. In addition to storm damage, he said that the levees may have been damaged by barges that broke lose during Hurricane Katrina but that he was not certain.

"We had barges sitting on top of levees," he said. "We had barges sitting on the other side of levees. We don't know yet. We have not done the forensics yet."

The state continued to grapple with the costs of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina. The governor announced that she had signed an order freezing the state budget in anticipation of a loss of $750 million to $1 billion in state revenues from the effects of thee hurricanes. That order, signed Monday night, includes a hiring freeze for state agencies and is intended to save $30 million to $50 million in spending, she said, adding that it "will be the first of many."

Officials in Galveston called for a voluntary evacuation before Hurricane Rita emerged into the gulf.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday that he had also spoken to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas "on the planning for what we pray is not a devastating storm - but there's one coming." R. David Paulison, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington on Tuesday that 45 truckloads of water, 45 truckloads of ice and 8 truckloads of ready-to-eat meals were being staged in Texas in advance of the storm. Nine urban search and rescue teams and nine disaster medical assistance teams also are to arrive. The agency, still facing criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina, has more search and rescue teams available in Texas than it did along the Gulf Coast in the advance of Hurricane Katrina. The Texas National Guard has also started withdrawing troops from Louisiana to prepare for landfall by Hurricane Rita, Louisiana National Guard officials said.

About 1,000 Texas troops were recalled, Lt. Michael Odie said. Along Interstate 10, convoys of military trucks drove west, some with handwritten signs with "Katrina" crossed out and "Rita" written beside the words "Texas Bound."

William Yardley reported from New Orleans for this article, and Abby Goodnough from Miami. Reporting was contributed by Christine Hauser,Michael Brick, David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton and Tim O'Hara.

    Rita Strengthens to Category 4 as It Moves Across Gulf, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/national/nationalspecial/21cnd-storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Face of Hurricane,

a Rush to Secure Oil Operations

 

September 21, 2005
The New York Times

By VIKAS BAJAJ

 

Oil and other energy prices moved higher today as Hurricane Rita gathered strength and threatened a dense patch of oil production facilities along the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Energy companies stepped up evacuations of offshore platforms and rigs in or near the path of the hurricane, which the National Hurricane Center upgraded to a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds of near 135 miles an hour early this morning. The many refineries along the coast of Texas were also bracing for a harsh lashing by strong winds, rain and flooding.

Crude oil for November delivery was trading up $1, or 1.5 percent, to $67.20 a barrel this afternoon on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline futures were up 7.34 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $2.05 a gallon; natural gas was up 2.7 percent.

Rita has the ability to severely disrupt oil production and refining that has still not completely recovered from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago. The devastation could conceivably be even more severe than the previous hurricane because the Texas coast is more densely packed with refineries and other onshore plants than Louisiana was, analysts said.

"A direct hit by a level 4 or 5 hurricane on the Houston ship channel, that would be devastating," said Bob Linden, a managing consultant at PA Consulting, noting that the area is thick with refineries and other critical energy operations.

Forecasters caution that it can be incredibly difficult to predict the trajectory of a hurricane and where it might make landfall. The National Hurricane Center believes the storm could land in a wide swath from near the Mexican border in the south to the western shores of Louisiana by the weekend. Officials in Galveston, Tex., the island city 50 miles southeast of Houston that has seen its share of hurricanes, have declared a state of emergency.

Texas accounts for more than a quarter of the United States' crude oil refining capacity, while the Gulf Coast, which both includes Texas and Louisiana, accounts for about 45 percent, according to the Energy Department. Katrina initially disabled about 10 percent of refining capacity, which were already stretched thin by heavy demand and tight supplies, and four refineries representing about 5 percent of capacity remain out of service to date.

"The potential impact is much more serious," said Ken Stern, a managing director at FTI Consulting in New York. "We all sort of hope that Rita is not as strong as Katrina, but if you put them on an equal basis you are talking about nearly three times the amount of refining capacity that is at risk" near Houston and Galveston.

When Katrina disrupted refineries and pipelines that carry fuel to the eastern half of the country from the Gulf Coast, retail prices soared well past $3 a gallon in many cities, a situation that could recur if Rita disrupts operations at refineries. Today, the retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.764, down slightly from $2.788 but still higher than the $2.613 a month ago, according to AAA.

This morning, a lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, John Seesel, told senators in Washington that the agency had started an investigation into whether "unlawful conduct affecting refinery capacity or other forms of illegal behavior have provided a foundation for price manipulation."

An official with the American Petroleum Institute said it was unclear what the investigation was looking into. Katrina "was a huge emergency with a body blow to the industry," said John Felmy, the institute's chief economist.

Separately, the Energy Department reported today that gasoline demand climbed 2.1 percent in the week ended Sept. 16 after falling for the first two weeks after Katrina. Demand, which is measured by how much fuel is supplied to large regional terminals, was still about 2 percent lower than the comparable week in 2004. Gasoline inventories rose 1.8 percent to 195.4 million barrels, slightly above where they were before Katrina struck.

On Tuesday, energy companies began to shut down more offshore oil and gas production facilities than they were restarting for the first time since Katrina made landfall. About 58.5 percent of oil production and 34.8 percent of natural gas production was out of service, according to the Interior Department; energy companies had evacuated about 16.6 percent of their platforms and 11.2 percent of their rigs in the gulf. Those numbers are likely to rise today.

Energy companies start moving employees off platforms and rigs in helicopters in phases, evacuating those furthest east and closest to the storm first before moving to platforms closer to the shore. The evacuations are often completed several days in advance of a hurricane's approach, but production on some platforms and rigs can continue as the storm approaches, with employees monitoring the situation remotely.

Refineries and other petrochemical plants are continuing to process crude oil into gasoline and other fuels, but energy companies say they are beginning to take precautionary measures to protect their facilities.

"If a hurricane starts barreling down on one of our refiners, we have procedures in place," said Gene Edwards, a senior vice president at Valero Energy, a refiner based in San Antonio. The first step is to reduce production, he said, "and if it looks like we will have a big power failure, we will shut down the refineries."

Refineries boil and use high pressures to turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, and shutting them down takes time and has to be done in phases. Workers typically start by lowering temperatures and pressures to slow the various chemical reactions taking place in the refiner.

Most refineries in Texas along the gulf have been running full throttle in the last several weeks in an effort to make up for the lost production at the four out-of-service refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"We have procedures depending on wind speed which way it is coming," Mr. Edwards said. "These hurricanes are somewhat unpredictable. Our preference is to run as much as we can."

Exxon Mobil said recovery efforts had slowed considerably at one of its large refineries in Chalmette, La., near New Orleans because of a mandatory evacuation order for the city and surrounding areas. The refinery had been disabled by Katrina.

    In Face of Hurricane, a Rush to Secure Oil Operations, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/business/21cnd-oil.html

 

 

 

 

Evacuees of One Storm

Flee Another in Texas

 

September 21, 2005
The New York Times
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL

 

HOUSTON, Sept. 20 - Hurricane Rita prompted a mandatory evacuation of this city's public shelters on Tuesday, emptying them as quickly as they had filled just three weeks ago and sending still-dazed survivors of Hurricane Katrina packing off to Arkansas, to the bus terminal, to the airport and, for some who considered themselves lucky, to paid and furnished apartments here in the Houston area.

Clustered in the hot sun and with all they had salvaged spilling from black garbage bags, shopping carts and suitcases tied with cords, evacuees set to leave one of the shelters, at Reliant Arena, seemed largely resigned to this new flight, although there were some flashes of temper.

Leading a circle of 10 with hands clasped in prayer as buses and taxicabs filled around them, Johnny Jeremiah, minister of the Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church here, intoned, "God, this day, right now, this place, with this foolishness going on, we need you."

City and county officials, who had moved a vast bureaucracy to house more than 27,000 survivors in four public shelters quickly after the New Orleans disaster, said none of those now leaving the shelters would be put in housing that could be at risk from the approaching storm. But they said they might have to relocate people who had earlier been placed at hotels and motels in low-lying areas.

With the new storm's path uncertain, Galveston, which still bears scars from the great hurricane of September 1900 - the nation's deadliest disaster, with at least 6,000 killed - ordered a mandatory evacuation to begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Mayor Bill White of Houston said that this city of two million would make its own decision Wednesday and that as much as half the population could be called upon to evacuate.

In recent days, the dwindling thousands of storm survivors who had been sheltered in the Astrodome and Reliant Arena, as well as the adjacent Reliant Center exhibition hall and the George R. Brown Convention Center, were concentrated largely in the arena, which was finally emptied Tuesday night.

For the last hundreds in the arena, the day was particularly trying. Families sat on bundles of possessions like war refugees. Pregnant women and the injured waited in wheelchairs. Red Cross volunteers weaved through the throngs, passing out cold water and pastries.

With her month-old daughter asleep in a stroller, Monique Davis scooped up diapers that had spilled over the ground. Nearby lay a trash bag with stuffed animals poking out. A boy rocked solemnly on a wooden hobbyhorse.

About 500 people who had applied for apartments and been promised them lined up for buses and taxicabs to get there. Others boarded tour buses to Ellington Field for flights to new shelter at Fort Chaffee, Ark. - some chose to make the entire trip by bus - or to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where Continental Airlines was offering free tickets out. Still others got rides to the Greyhound terminal, where free tickets also awaited.

Steve Freeman, an oyster shucker with an injured leg infected from walking through floodwaters, said he planned to take up Continental on the free flight to reach Norfolk, Va., where he heard there were lots of oysters. But he was suspicious of the official motives for the evacuation.

"They've been trying to get us out early," Mr. Freeman said. "We're the working people. They don't want us here."

Paul Horton, driver of a produce truck, said he would use his airline ticket to fly to Atlanta to join his wife and two children, who had evacuated there with a neighbor. He has been separated from them since the hurricane, Mr. Horton said, when they got out after the water reached chest-high. He was later rescued and evacuated by bus to Dallas, then Arizona, Arkansas and finally the Reliant sports and entertainment complex in Houston.

Rohonor R. Randall, in a wheelchair with a bandaged foot ailing from exposure to polluted water, said she was bound for Fort Chaffee, but by bus.

"I'm not afraid of planes, I just like to be on the ground," Ms. Randall said.

She called for her newfound friend, the Rev. Hugh Hairston, pastor of Loveland Church in Ontario, Calif., a leader of a group of volunteer clerics called Operation Compassion. He offered a prayer for her foot.

Ms. Randall gripped his hand and said: "You never know where life leads you. Life changes in an instant, like God is showing you life is valuable."

Maureen Balleza and Bill Dawson contributed reporting from Houston for this article, and Christie Taylor from Galveston.   

    Evacuees of One Storm Flee Another in Texas, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/national/nationalspecial/21rita.html

 

 

 

 

 

Residents Leave Gulf Coast Area

as Storm Grows

 

September 21, 2005
Reuters
By WILLIAM YARDLEY and ABBY GOODNOUGH

 

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 20 - Hurricane Rita brushed past Key West on Tuesday and was forecast to strengthen into a major hurricane later in the week, prompting residents and rescuers to begin evacuating this feeble city, as well as parts of Louisiana and Texas.

From the tip of the Florida peninsula to Galveston, Tex., thousands left their homes or made plans to, including many who had already fled once, from Hurricane Katrina, and were living in shelters and temporary housing. In Houston, officials moved evacuees from New Orleans out of the Reliant Arena and sent many of them on to Arkansas.

In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco asked President Bush on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency for her battered state as it prepares for Hurricane Rita. She requested $10 million in assistance.

Churning undiminished toward the warm and wide Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Rita could strengthen to Category 4 intensity as it approaches Texas later this week, said Colin McAdie, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 4 storm when it devastated parts of the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Aug. 29.

Mr. McAdie said western Louisiana could also bear the brunt of the storm depending on changes in steering currents.

"It's better not to nail it down too precisely," he said. "Over the next day or so we'll have a better idea."

The threat of a new storm aligned federal and local authorities in Louisiana, at least publicly, after weeks of tension over the response to Hurricane Katrina.

President Bush, who had visited Mississippi earlier, attended a briefing in New Orleans. Later in the day, Mr. Bush signed legislation to increase the borrowing authority of the government's flood insurance program to $3.5 billion from $1.5 billion to pay claims from Hurricane Katrina.

"All up and down this coastline people are now preparing for what is anticipated to be yet another significant storm," the president said. He said Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen would remain in charge of the federal effort in Louisiana and Mississippi and that "we've got another admiral who is now being stationed in Texas, to coordinate the relief response."

Mr. Bush also praised the New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin, who decided Monday to suspend a staggered reopening of parts of the city.

"He made a wise decision to say to people, be cautious about returning here, because a rain of any amount could cause these levees to break again," the president said.

The mayor, prickly a day earlier under pressure from the president and Admiral Allen to delay the return of residents into parts of the city, gave the admiral a T-shirt at a news conference on Tuesday outside City Hall, where generators still supply power and most key operations have moved across the street to the battered Hyatt Hotel.

Mr. Nagin said the words on the T-shirt read: "I love New Orleans."

The official death toll in Louisiana remained at 736. In Mississippi, 219 people died from the storm.

The Associated Press reported that a 72-year-old man, John Lyons, had been found alive in his home in New Orleans. Mr. Lyons's wife, Leola, also 72, was found dead.

In the city, mostly empty of residents but with its physical core still vulnerable, the possibility of heavy rain and a storm surge prompted officials to make emergency efforts to bolster its weakened levee system, station 500 buses on its outskirts to evacuate remaining residents and establish a military hospital at the convention center, which just weeks ago was the scene of violence and desperation for thousands of trapped evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

In Florida, Hurricane Rita lashed Key West as it passed about 50 miles south of the island on Tuesday afternoon, flooding roads, yards and beaches through much of the Keys but not inflicting the severe damage many had feared. Late Tuesday night, it bordered on Category 3 strength as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico, with sustained winds near 110 miles per hour.

The Lower and Middle Keys were cut off from the rest of Florida for most of the day after Route 1 closed because of flooding. A quarter-mile section of the highway on Lower Matecumbe Key was closed because of a storm surge. Law enforcement officials said the roads were strewn with debris, although that did not stop the curious from driving. A few bars and restaurants stayed opened and drew restless crowds.

"We were not asked to close, and we won't close until we are," said Michael Pastore, a bartender at Don's Place, a Key West bar that opened at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

By late afternoon, about 24,000 homes and businesses in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had no electricity far fewer than when Hurricane Katrina hit South Florida on Aug. 26, killing 11. In Miami, which suffered only rain squalls, tame winds and minor flooding, officials said government offices and schools would reopen Wednesday.

Gov. Jeb Bush said that 2,400 National Guard troops had been mobilized and 2,000 more were on alert in case the storm the seventh to hit Florida in 13 months - proved devastating. Hospitals and nursing homes in the Keys, eager to avoid the mistakes of New Orleans, evacuated their patients on Monday.

In New Orleans, Mr. Nagin said perhaps as few several hundred people were still living in the city's most vulnerable areas, in addition to the thousands of military and emergency workers who had come to help it recover. Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who is leading military efforts in the recovery, emphasized that evacuees taken to the convention center would be quickly transported out of town.

"We're not going back into that convention center and Superdome business," he said, alluding to the days of televised despair when tens of thousands of mostly poor black residents were trapped by floodwaters in the two buildings.

Two busloads of residents were evacuated from the convention center on Tuesday, the mayor said.

The mayor said officials would be more aggressive in pushing for evacuation on Wednesday if the storm turns toward the city, but he said they would not force people from their homes. General Honoré said about 14,000 troops in the region would move into shelters capable of withstanding Category 5 storms, the strongest measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The city's weakened levee system could be breached by a storm surge as low as five feet, said Brig. Gen. Robert Crear of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps, which has used sandbags, stones and concrete to seal breaches in several levees, does not expect the levees to be fully repaired until June 1, the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

General Crear said canals with repaired levees were being blocked at Lake Pontchartrain, to prevent pressure from building on the levees. In addition to storm damage, he said that the levees may have been damaged by barges that broke lose during Hurricane Katrina but that he was not certain.

"We had barges sitting on top of levees," he said. "We had barges sitting on the other side of levees. We don't know yet. We have not done the forensics yet."

The state continued to grapple with the costs of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina. The governor announced that she had signed an order freezing the state budget in anticipation of a loss of $750 million to $1 billion in state revenues from the effects of thee hurricanes. That order, signed Monday night, includes a hiring freeze for state agencies and is intended to save $30 million to $50 million in spending, she said, adding that it "will be the first of many."

Officials in Galveston called for a voluntary evacuation before Hurricane Rita emerged into the gulf.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday that he had also spoken to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas "on the planning for what we pray is not a devastating storm - but there's one coming."

R. David Paulison, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington on Tuesday that 45 truckloads of water, 45 truckloads of ice and 8 truckloads of ready-to-eat meals were being staged in Texas in advance of the storm. Nine urban search and rescue teams and nine disaster medical assistance teams also are to arrive.

The agency, still facing criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina, has more search and rescue teams available in Texas than it did along the Gulf Coast in the advance of Hurricane Katrina.

The Texas National Guard has also started withdrawing troops from Louisiana to prepare for landfall by Hurricane Rita, Louisiana National Guard officials said.

About 1,000 Texas troops were recalled, Lt. Michael Odie said. Along Interstate 10, convoys of military trucks drove west, some with handwritten signs with "Katrina" crossed out and "Rita" written beside the words "Texas Bound."

William Yardley reported from New Orleans for this article, and Abby Goodnough from Miami. Reporting was contributed by Michael Brick, David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton and Tim O'Hara.

    Residents Leave Gulf Coast Area as Storm Grows, NYT, 21.9.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/21/national/nationalspecial/21storm.html

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Rita soaks Keys,

heads to Gulf

 

Tue Sep 20, 2005 11:41 PM ET
Reuters
By Jim Loney

 

MIAMI (Reuters) - Rapidly strengthening Hurricane Rita lashed the low-lying islands of the Florida Keys on Tuesday as the U.S. Gulf Coast began preparing for a possible encore to devastating Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans started evacuating as the National Hurricane Center said Rita could become a Category 4 storm, the second highest grade on the five-stage hurricane scale. Katrina was a Category 4 when it roared ashore on August 29, swamping the historic jazz city and crushing Mississippi coastal towns.

Rita grew from a tropical storm to a strong Category 2 hurricane with 110-mph (175-kph) winds on Tuesday as it battered the fragile Florida Keys but its powerful core stayed far enough offshore to spare the island chain its worst.

Rita's most likely future track would take it to Texas, raising fears the sprawling storm could bring heavy rains to flooded New Orleans and threaten the recovery of oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana declared a state of emergency and New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded when Katrina shattered its protective levees, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready to roll.

"We're a lot smarter this time around," he said. "We've learned a lot of hard lessons."

All 80,000 residents had been ordered out of the Florida Keys island chain but many stayed behind in boarded-up homes. Rita's winds pushed seawater, sand and seaweed onto the Overseas Highway, the only road linking the islands to the mainland and flooded some buildings.

The storm swamped streets and knocked out power in Key West, the tourist playground at the western end of the island chain. But officials said the city fared well.

"We did not have the flooding I thought we'd have," Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley told reporters. "We were extremely lucky."

 

RITA HEADS INTO GULF

Rita's center was about 95 miles west-southwest of Key West, Florida, at 11 p.m. (0300 GMT). The hurricane was headed west into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico at about 13 mph (21 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane center said Rita was likely to become a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale -- with sustained winds above 130 mph (210 kph) -- by Wednesday night.

"The conditions over the central Gulf are much like they were for Katrina," hurricane center deputy director Ed Rappaport told CNN.

A major hurricane could send a 20-foot (6-meter) storm surge over the Texas coast by Saturday.

President George W. Bush was briefed on the growing storm aboard the helicopter assault landing ship Iwo Jima, which is docked in New Orleans and has served as the military's Katrina relief headquarters.

"I've been briefed on the planning for what we pray is not a devastating storm. But there's one coming," said Bush, who was criticized as being caught off guard by the severity of Katrina.

Galveston, Texas, where a hurricane in September 1900 killed between 8,000 and 12,000 people, declared a state of emergency and called for voluntary evacuations.

The president also signed an emergency declaration making federal assistance available to Florida, at the request of his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Keys' hospitals and nursing homes were evacuated before Rita hit and helicopters were on standby to carry in water, food and other supplies. Some 2,400 Florida National Guard troops were mobilized and another 2,000 were on alert.

Rita was the seventh hurricane to hit Florida in 13 months.

 

AGAIN EVACUATING RIGS

Oil companies just starting to recover from Katrina evacuated Gulf oil rigs as Rita moved toward major energy production areas.

The Navy began moving its remaining fleet of Katrina relief vessels, including the Iwo Jima, away from the Gulf Coast to ride out any potential battering from Rita.

About 1,100 Hurricane Katrina evacuees still in Houston's two mass shelters faced another evacuation as the city found itself in Rita's possible path. They were being sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

Hurricane Rita also caused minor flooding in northwest Cuba, where 60,000 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas. Most of Havana's 2.2 million people stayed home, leaving the capital's streets nearly deserted.

 

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier in Tallahassee, Jane Sutton and Michael Christie in Miami, Adam Entous in New Orleans, Mark Babineck in Houston and Marc Frank in Havana)

Hurricane Rita soaks Keys, heads to Gulf, R, 20.9.2005, http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-09-21T034116Z_01_SPI946169_RTRUKOC_0_US-WEATHER-RITA.xml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related > Anglonautes > History > Early 21st century

 

Hurricane Katrina > 2-11 September 2005

 

Hurricane Katrina > 12 September - 30 November 2005

 

Hurricane Katrina > Maps

 

Hurricane Katrina > Picayune frontpages

 

Hurricane Katrina > Diaspora

 

Hurricane Katrina > Rebuilding

 

Hurricane Katrina > Aftermath

 

 

 

 

 

Related > Anglonautes > Vocapedia > Natural disasters

 

hurricanes, storms > floods

 

 

hurricanes > victims, death, destruction, damage

 

 

hurricanes > evacuees, refugees, displaced people

 

 

hurricanes > relief

 

 

hurricanes > recovery, rebuilding

 

 

 

 

 

Related > Anglonautes > Vocapedia > Weather > Hurricanes

 

hurricanes

 

 

hurricanes > Harvey - Houston - 2017

 

 

hurricanes > Maria - Dominica, Puerto Rico - 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Related

 

The Guardian > Hurricane Katrina timeline

– how the disaster unfolded 10 years ago - 17 August 2015

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/aug/17/
hurricane-katrina-timeline

 

 

The Guardian > After Katrina: New Orleans then and now

– interactive photographs - 13 August 2015

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/13/
after-katrina-new-orleans-then-and-now-interactive-photographs

 

 

NPR > hurricane Katrina: 10 years of recovery and reflection

http://www.npr.org/series/429056277/
hurricane-katrina-10-years-of-recovery-and-reflection

 

 

USA Today > Hurricane Katrina > Full Coverage

https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/hurricane.htm 

 

 

 

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