Weaker Rita Slogs North Through Texas

Surging waters of Lake Charles flood a parking lot as Hurricane Rita hits Lake Charles, La.

hide captionSurging waters of Lake Charles flood a parking lot as Hurricane Rita hits Lake Charles, La.

Reuters

Hurricane Rita is losing power as it makes its way through eastern Texas. The Texas towns of Galveston, Lumberton and Port Arthur and Lake Charles, La., absorbed the brunt of the storm so far. Rita reached land early Saturday as a Category 3 hurricane.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

And this update now on Hurricane Rita.

It is now a Category 2 storm. Hurricane Rita continues to lash communities with high winds and drenching rains, however, as it moves slowly northward along the border of Texas and Louisiana. Already the storm has downed power lines, cutting off electricity to three-quarters of a million homes and businesses. The storm has sparked fires, uprooted trees and ripped the roofs off buildings in communities from Beaumont, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The flood-prone cities of Houston and Galveston have largely been spared, though high winds whipped a fire through three buildings in the historic district of Galveston. So far no estimates of damage to the petrochemical plants, oil refineries and offshore oil and gas platforms have been possible. Of course, these facilities populate the area affected by the storm.

Hurricane Rita powered ashore shortly after 2:30 AM Central time this morning, just southeast of the Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, areas with winds that were exceeding 120 miles per hour. Those winds are now down to less than a hundred miles an hour and are expected to weaken to tropical storm levels later today, but forecasters at the same time say that heavy winds--forgive me, heavy rains of up to 25 inches in some areas could cause serious flooding as the hurricane stalls out. Also dangerous storm surges could cause serious damage along the southeast Louisiana coast. NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca has been joining us this morning.

Did this hit pretty much where they thought it would?

JOE PALCA reporting:

They were pretty close. They had it coming in right about here, and that's where it came.

SIMON: Well, and of course, assets were in place to try and deal with the recovery. NPR's going to continue to cover Rita and her aftermath throughout the day on all of the NPR News programs that follow.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

At this hour, Hurricane Rita has weakened considerably but it's still battering some communities along northern Louisiana and east Texas with sustained winds of 75 miles per hour and drenching rains. That makes it a weak Category 1 storm. After powering ashore early today, between Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, Rita's Category 3 winds of more than 120 miles an hour cut a deep path of destruction. Buildings were reported burning in Vinton, Louisiana, just west of Lake Charles. The storm surge and heavy rains caused flooding in Port Arthur, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Downed power lines cut electricity for more than a million customers from Houston to Lake Charles. However, Houston and Galveston, which had feared a direct hit were spared the worst. As of yet, no estimates of damage to oil refineries in the region, and gas and oil platforms in the region.

Forecasters expect Rita to weaken further and become a tropical storm later this afternoon. But they warn that there are dangers from inland flooding and storm surges that could reach as high as 15 to 20 feet along the western Louisiana coast and the east Texas Gulf Coast.

You can read NPR's Web log tracking the latest developments on Hurricane Rita and its aftermath at our Web site, npr.org.

And you are listening to WEEKEND EDITION special live coverage from NPR News.

We have this update on the storm.

Hurricane Rita hit as a Category 3 storm and left a wide and deep swath of damage from Houston, Texas, to central Louisiana since barreling ashore this morning. The storm's eye made landfall between Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. It cut power in the Houston area to 700,000 people in that Houston-Galveston area, and its winds whipped fires in Galveston's historic district.

Those cities that were prone to flooding escaped the brunt of the storm's fury, however. Rita's heavy rains and storm surge did flood parts of Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, and streets and underpasses were flooded in many other communities. Elsewhere, the storm toppled trees, shattered windows and tore the roofs off the tops of buildings.

As of yet, there are no estimates of damage to oil refineries in the region and gas and oil platforms that are in the area that provide up to a quarter, as a matter of fact, of the petroleum supply of the United States. Forecasters now expect Rita, as a Category 1 storm, to weaken further, and become a tropical storm officially some time later this afternoon, but they warn that there are dangers from inland flooding and storm surges that may reach as high as 15 to 20 feet along the western coast of Louisiana and the east Texas Gulf Coast.

NPR's news and information programs will continue to follow the story throughout the day. You can read NPR's Web log, tracking the latest developments on Hurricane Rita and its aftermath at our Web site. We invite you to join us there at npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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