Hurricane Rita Blog Sept. 24

Water covers Route 87 through the east side of town following Hurricane Rita September 24, 2005 in Port Arthur, Texas. Rita hit land as a category 3 hurricane near the Louisiana and Texas border causing flooding and wind damage throughout the region.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
This is a running list compiled by staffers of the latest developments of Hurricane Rita and the recovery efforts underway on the Gulf Coast. For a look back to fast-breaking events of the Katrina disaster, see our previous blog.

Sept. 24, 2005

10:28 p.m.
(AP) — Rita has turned out the lights for 1.5 million power customers in Texas and Louisiana. And although Rita's now a tropical storm, it continues to lash parts of the region with strong winds and heavy rain. One person died in a tornado spawned by Rita in northern Mississippi.

9:06 p.m.
Watch complete coverage of Hurricane Rita from the CBS Evening News:

6:45 p.m.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — President Bush has declared a "major disaster" after Hurricane Rita roared into Southeast Texas. A White House statement says the action makes federal relief available to those affected in Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, Orange, and Tyler counties.

The statement says assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other disaster relief.

4:15 p.m.
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The governor of Louisiana says two-thirds of the state's 64 parishes have lost power. And that represents 700-thousand households.

Kathleen Blanco says she's ''very concerned about what the storm surge is doing'' along the coast, where levees have been weakened and there are concerns about further flooding.

3:30 p.m.
BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — In the east Texas town of Beaumont, trees and power lines are down, electricity is out, and the area continues to get pounded by heavy rain.

It is close to where Hurricane Rita made landfall overnight, packing winds of more than 100 miles per hour.

Police have made several arrests for looting of homes and businesses. They are continuing to check on businesses, including some where security alarms were sounding.

3 p.m.

2:30 p.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) The Federal Emergency Management Agency says there are no reported deaths in connection with Hurricane Rita.

1:48 p.m.
MIAMI (AP) — The National Hurricane Center reports Rita has lost its hurricane-force winds. It's now a tropical storm, with top winds of 65 miles an hour.

1 p.m.

11:22 a.m.
AUSTIN (CBS) — Texas Governor Rick Perry urges evacuated residents to "stay put", that he does not want them to try to return home at this time. Perry also says some schools may cancel classes Monday, possibly Tuesday.

10:40 a.m.
MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Rita is now just barely a hurricane, with top winds of 75 miles an hour.

10:16 a.m.
GALVESTON, Texas — CBS' Lee Cowan: I guess one word for it would be relief. As bad as it was overnight, Rita largely spared the island of flooding and significant wind damage.

That said, there's still debris flying past me on the Galveston sea wall and there's a hint of smoke in the air from a devastating fire in downtown. Of all the fires I've covered, I've never been to one in a hurricane, where the wind is blowing flames every which way, and sending embers flying right in our face.

It was spectacular in all the wrong ways, but thankfully, it seems to be the worst Rita could bring.

8:04 a.m.
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — CBS' Trish Regan: We're about an hour north of Houston in Huntsville, TX. We arrived yesterday afternoon and met hundreds of people park along the highway's shoulder that told us they had no idea where they would wait out the storm. The Red Cross shelter nearby had reached capacity early in the day, so people were being turned away with no where to go. Fortunately, by nightfall, additional shelters had opened at churches and the county fairgrounds. And stranded families poured into these facilities.

7:58 a.m.
MIAMI (AP) — Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have downgraded Hurricane Rita to a Category 2 storm.

7:26 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — CBS' Harry Smith: In downtown New Orleans early this morning, the winds are dying down and the rain bands are less frequent. This city is still a mess from Katrina almost four weeks ago. Finally pumped dry just this week. Water poured back into the beleagured ninth ward as a levee was topped Friday morning. Power is still out in sections of the city. And debris from Katrina still sits in piles curb side. Weary is the word that describes the feeling here. The reflooding of the ninth ward illustrates just how vulnerable this city still is. And what a monumental task awaits.

6:50 a.m.
(AP) —Hurricane Rita is leaving behind some scary numbers as it now moves inland over Louisiana and Texas this morning.

The National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center have compiled some of the storm's statistics, including:

  • A wind gust of 112 mph at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana recorded between midnight and 1 a.m.
  • Another gust of 116 mph at a tower in Port Arthur, Texas, with sustained winds of 91 mph.
  • A rainfall total of eight inches at Lake Charles, Louisiana more than two hours before Rita made landfall.
  • A coastal storm surge flooding of 15 feet above normal tide levels and up to 20 feet at the mouths of bays and rivers.

    6:15 a.m.
    (AP) — Hurricane forecasters expect Rita to stall just after landfall.

    The system is expected to drench the Texas-Louisiana border from the coast to Texarkana with eight inches to two feet of rain. Hurricanes are guided by winds at upper levels of the atmosphere, known as steering currents.

    There often is a brisk steering current blowing west-to-east that moves a storm quickly.

    The forecasters don't know how long Rita might sit on the Texas-Louisiana border, but they do have a rainfall prediction -- as much as 25 inches.

    5:29 a.m.
    SABINE PASS, Texas (AP) — More than 500,000 homes and businesses in Texas have lost electricity due to Hurricane Rita.

    Most of the outages are in the Houston area.

    4:49 a.m.
    (CBS)— From his ninth-floor hotel room in Beaumont, Texas, CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports that the building is rocking in the howling winds. "It is akin to the sensation of being on a moving train. What's disorienting is that a hotel room isn't supposed to move," Pinkston says.

    3:52 a.m.
    BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — Hurricane Rita plowed into the Gulf Coast early Saturday, lashing Texas and Louisiana with driving rain, igniting the pre-dawn sky with exploding transformers and threatening to flood the low-lying region.

    Rita made landfall at 3:38 a.m. EDT as a Category 3 storm just east of Sabine Pass, on the Texas-Louisiana line, bringing with it a 20-foot storm surge and up to 25 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

    3:22 a.m.
    WASHINGTON (AP) — If analysts agree on anything when it comes to the federal agency responsible for handling disasters, it's that it lacks the money to prepare for calamities that are not literally on the horizon.

    Much else about the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency defies consensus or even comprehension.

    Unlike most parts of the government, FEMA is different at different times, small in size and budget when nothing much is going on, swelling to huge and expensive when a disaster strikes.

    2:10 a.m.
    BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — Hurricane Rita's strongest winds came ashore along the Texas-Louisiana early Saturday, battered the coast with stinging rain and pounding waves that threatened flooding across the low-lying region.

    The eyewall, the ring of high wind surrounding the calm eye; lashed the coastal area between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Cameron, La., according to the National Hurricane Center.

    12:05 a.m.
    HOUSTON (AP) — It was envisioned as the anti-Katrina plan: Texas officials sketched a staggered, orderly evacuation plan for Hurricane Rita and urged people to get out days ahead of time.

    But tangles still arrived even before the storm's first bands. Panicked drivers ran out of gas, a spectacular, deadly bus fire clogged traffic, and freeways were red rivers of taillights that stretched to the horizon.

    In an age of terrorist danger and with memories of the nightmare in New Orleans still fresh, the Texas exodus raises a troubling question: Can any American city empty itself safely and quickly?

    Read previous disaster blogs:
    Sept. 23, Sept. 22; Sept. 20; Sept. 19; Sept. 18.