Hurricane Rita Blog: Sept. 25

Environmental worker prepares to spread booms and oil-absorbent pads around the perimeter fence at the Valero's Port Arthur,Texas, refinery following an oil spill after it was flooded by Hurricane Rita Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005. Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas coast early Saturday morning.
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. 25, 2005
9:02 p.m.
(AP) — The mammoth tasks of restoring power to much of New Orleans and removing heaps of debris, interrupted when Hurricane Rita rammed the Gulf Coast, resumed Sunday as the mayor pushed his plan to reopen parts of the city this week.

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

"All indications are all operations are getting back to normal," said Ted Monette, deputy federal coordinating officer for Katrina recovery.

Monette said federal officials had been coordinating with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's effort to begin allowing evacuated residents to return and were supportive of his plan.

3:55 p.m.
(CBS) — An official in Cameron Parrish told CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston of the total destruction in rural areas of Southwest Louisiana. "If there is a buiding standing — its just barely standing," the official said. "In Holly Beach — just water tower is standing."

3:31 p.m.
(CBS) — Making a stop in Louisiana, President Bush was briefed on the impact of Hurricane Rita and the response of the government on all levels. With Gov. Kathleen Blanco at his side, the president urged evacuees not to return to their homes until they get the green light from authorities.

"I know a lot of people want to get back home," Mr. Bush said. "It's important that there be an orderly process."

2:51 p.m.
(AP) — Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says "everything is just obliterated" after surveying coastal towns devastated by Hurricane Rita. Viewing the destruction by helicopter, the governor saw fishing communities in Cameron Parish that were reduced to splinters, with concrete slabs the only evidence of homes that once stood there.

1:48 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Even after the latest hurricane crisis eases, and downtown businesses along with French Quarter topless bars reopen, life in New Orleans will be far from normal. Among the somber distinctions: For months to come this will be an almost childless city.

Dozens of schools were irreparably damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and only a handful are expected to open before January. Few day-care centers will be available for preschoolers, and health experts warn that children are at extra risk of contamination if they come back before the city is thoroughly cleaned of the foul floodwater's residue.

1:12 p.m.
(CBS) — Reporting from a bridge in New Orleans' hard-hit Ninth Ward just before Hurricane Rita passed by the shore, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi had to be held down by crew members, who gripped her ankles as 30 mph winds ripped over the bridge while she was being filmed. Alfonsi recounted

to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation.

1:10 p.m.
(CBS) — The Captain of the Port of New Orleans reopened the Lower Mississippi River after it was closed while the region weathered Hurricane Rita. The area is open to normal traffic, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a release, but the zone restricts all deep draft vessels to daylight transits only.

All mariners are advised to transit at their slowest safe speed in the vicinity of any salvage operations.
12:45 p.m.
HOUSTON (AP) — People are returning to Texas cities evacuated ahead of Hurricane Rita. Galveston officials reopened the city to evacuees before dawn. Officials in Houston have called for a gradual return of more than 1 million people who left at the end of the week. Houston is opening less-damaged areas of the city first. Residents of the city's northwest quarter have been told they can return today, while those in the southwest can return tomorrow.

11:23 a.m.
HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's two major airports are up and running. Commercial airline service has resumed to Bush Intercontinental and Hobby. Southwest and Continental say they resumed flights from Dallas to Houston this morning. Continental says it plans to have 249 departures from Houston before the day is out. Airline officials say there was little damage at the airports.

10:48 a.m.
(CBS) — RAW video:

for residents of the Gulf Coast.

10:30 a.m.BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — Texas Governor Rick Perry is asking hurricane evacuees to continue to stay away for now. In particular, Perry says there is no power, water or other services in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. He says those areas "really got whacked" by Hurricane Rita, but the rest of the state "missed a bullet."

9:45 a.m.
(CBS/AP) — SAN ANTONIO (AP) Military officials told President Bush that the U.S. needs a national plan to coordinate search and rescue efforts following natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Bush said he had stopped at Randolph Air Base in San Antonio and the U.S. Northern Command to better understand how the government can prepare for natural disasters and ease their effects.

He said he also wanted to know whether there was times when the Defense Department should take charge during such 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 said.

Watch RAW video: President Bush asks Military officials at a Department of Defense briefing whether natural disasters of a certain size deserve to be treated like terrorist attacks.

4:03 a.m.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) — President Bush is on a three-state trip, meeting with military and emergency officials, to show himself as a leader engaged in federal efforts to recover from twin hurricanes that have struck the Gulf Coast in less than a month.

Bush, who is to be briefed here Sunday by Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, joint military task force commander for Hurricane Rita, said he was satisfied the government was "well-organized and well-prepared" to respond.

"Nobody asks for these things, but when they come, we have a duty," Bush said Saturday at the Texas Emergency Operations Center in Austin. "I'm really here to let the folks in Texas know that the federal government knows we have a responsibility to support you in the mission of saving lives, first and foremost, and then help to rebuild their lives."

3:32 a.m.
MIAMI (AP) — What used to be Hurricane, then Tropical Storm, Rita has weakened to a tropical depression. But forecasters say the system remains a major rainmaker.

According to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the center of the tropical depression was located north of Shreveport, Louisiana. It's packing top sustained winds of 35 mph.

1:23 a.m.
(CBS) — If you're wondering why gasoline prices have doubled in the past year, The Washington Post says a big part of the reason is that the companies that refine and produce oil have sharply increased their profit margins, reports CBS News' Dave Browde.

Refiners profits have tripled to $.99 a gallon according to The Washington Post, while producers have increased their margins by $.47 a gallon, or 46 percent. During the price spikes, oil companies like Exxon Mobil have reported sharply increased profits, which the paper says are likely to continue soaring.

12:17 a.m.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Officials say a tornado spawned by the remnants of Hurricane Rita overturned a mobile home near the central Mississippi town of Belzoni on Saturday, killing one person.

There has been another death reported along the Mississippi-Louisiana border, but officials haven't determined if it's storm related.

A state emergency spokeswoman says 22 homes were destroyed in Mississippi. She says 54 had major damage and an unknown number had minor damage.

An Entergy spokesman says nearly 13-thousand customers are without power, mostly in central and southern portions of Mississippi. And he says more outages are expected overnight as the storm pushes north.

12:01 a.m.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Hurricane Rita smacked a key region for oil-refining with less force than feared on Saturday, although there were some early signs of damage.

Pump prices for gasoline and diesel fuel could rise if pipelines and oil refineries are slow to resume operations, and analysts said they were paying close attention to facilities in Lake Charles, La., and Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas.

"There will be some modest disruption of supplies of gasoline and other products," said William Veno, an analyst at Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "But I don't think it's going to be as severe a situation as Hurricane Katrina."

Read previous disaster blogs:
Sept. 24, Sept. 23, Sept. 22; Sept. 20; Sept. 19; Sept. 18.