Hurricane Rita Poised to Strike Gulf Coast Hurricane Rita has been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles an hour. But the winds, rains and waves of the storm still poses a serious threat to the coastal regions of Louisiana and Texas.
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Hurricane Rita Poised to Strike Gulf Coast

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Hurricane Rita Poised to Strike Gulf Coast

Hurricane Rita Poised to Strike Gulf Coast

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The edges of Hurricane Rita are striking the Gulf Coast. It's a Category 3 storm. The eye is about 100 miles southeast of the Gulf Coast city of Port Arthur, Texas. The storm's spiraling arms are taking swings at the shore, bringing heavy rain and winds.

NORRIS: In New Orleans, waters topped levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina, once again flooding homes in the city's 9th Ward.

BLOCK: The Federal Emergency Management Agency's acting director, David Paulison, had this message for people in Texas and Louisiana.

Mr. DAVID PAULISON (Acting Director, FEMA): We are here, FEMA is going to be here. We are going to make sure that you get taken care of. The federal government has done pretty much all it's possible to do. Right now, we just have to wait out the storm, see exactly where it makes landfall, and then move ahead in with our supplies that we have on the ground and our resources.

BLOCK: That's FEMA's acting director, David Paulison.

NORRIS: Already, there's news of one tragedy as people rush to get out of Rita's way. Early this morning, at least 24 people died when their bus caught fire just outside Dallas. The passengers were being evacuated from a nursing home in Bellaire, Texas.

BLOCK: In this part of the program, more on how people have been preparing. But first to the National Hurricane Center in Miami for the latest on the storm itself. NPR's Jon Hamilton is there.

And, Jon, what are you hearing about how bad this storm's going to get?

JON HAMILTON reporting:

Well, pretty bad, I guess, is the short answer. Galveston has already reported a gust of more than 50 miles an hour, and it's not even going to get the worst part of the storm. There have also been reports already of high winds and heavy surf all along the coastline. It's worth remembering that a Category 3 storm is still a major hurricane. You can see a foot of rain, 15 foot of storm surge and, oh, yeah, by the way, you get big waves and tornadoes, too. And if all that doesn't convince you, it's worth remembering that Isabel, which hit North Carolina a couple of years ago, was only a Category 2 storm, and it did a huge amount of damage.

BLOCK: Now earlier today Hurricane Rita was headed right toward Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas. Is that still the path that it seems to be taking?

HAMILTON: It's still the path. The forecast has been really rock-steady now for more than a day. It's pointing right at a stretch of coastline near the border of Texas and Louisiana. Port Arthur, Texas, will be somewhere very near the center of the storm.

BLOCK: And what are they saying about storm surge in Port Arthur and around that region there?

HAMILTON: Well, there could be up to 15 feet of storm surge in that area. And one of the other things that kind of happened is there are a number of rivers that run down to the ocean there, and those rivers can actually run backward in a big hurricane like this and fill up lakes higher up and flood the lakes.

BLOCK: Jon, this had been an extremely wide storm, so I'm assuming that the impact will still be felt east to New Orleans and south and west to Houston. What are you hearing about that?

HAMILTON: Well, yes, it will. New Orleans, of course, has already felt quite a bit from the storm, and it's 300 miles away from the center. There've been reports of levee problems there and 5 or 6 inches of rain, and it's not over yet there. I'm hearing that the worst of it may actually be when high tide comes around midnight tonight.

Now Houston hasn't been hit yet; it's further inland and further west. But it's certain that Houston will feel something from this. The thing it has going in its favor is that it's on what's known as the weak side of the hurricane.

BLOCK: Jon, when we spoke to you yesterday, you said that they were saying this hurricane would move inland and then just stop and rain and rain and rain. Is that still the projection here?

HAMILTON: Yes, that is still the projection. They are very worried here that what may happen is that it goes inland and then, as you say, just stops. And when a hurricane stops, it doesn't stop raining; it just stops moving. And so you could get up to 20 inches of rain or more, and that's a lot of flooding.

BLOCK: NPR's Jon Hamilton is at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Jon, thanks very much.

HAMILTON: You're welcome.

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