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Hurricane Rita Blog

This is a running list compiled by staffers of the latest developments of Hurricane Rita as the Gulf Coast braces for another hit. For a look back to fast-breaking events of the Katrina disaster, see our previous blog.

Sept. 23, 2005
2:50 p.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials declared a public health emergency for Texas and Louisiana Friday in anticipation of Hurricane Rita's strike, even as they continued to urge people in the storm's path to get to safety — or hunker down if it's too late to leave. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared a public health emergency to ease some of the requirements for hurricane victims who seek Medicaid or other assistance after the storm, a spokesman said.

President Bush visited FEMA in Washington before flying later in the day to his home state of Texas.

2:22 p.m.
HOUSTON (CBS) — CBS News correspondent Dan Rather reports that people in Houston have heeded the warnings to evacuate, judging by the city's empty feeling. He says it's hard to imagine today that 5 million people usually live in Houston, because it feels like a ghost town.

And CBS News Radio correspondent Peter Maer reports that Texas Gov. Rick Perry says the evacuation order has worked.

2:16 p.m.
(CBS/AP) — Hurricane Rita slowly weakened Friday, moving from a Category 4 to a Category 3 storm as it swept toward the Texas and Louisiana coast with 125 mph winds.

1:05 p.m.
(CBS) — A CBS station in San Francisco reports that members of the U.S. military stationed at a middle school in New Orleans feel haunted. And, apparently, it's not just the mass destruction and dead bodies that are getting to them. CBS5's Janet Yee writes:

By all accounts, the Sophie B.
Wright Middle School in New
Orleans sits empty and
evacuated except for military
personnel who have taken over
the campus as a staging site
for missions around the
battered city. But the men
in uniform have the feeling
that they're not alone. It
prompted a chaplain to utter
this directive: "In the name
of Jesus Chris, I command
you Satan to leave the dark
areas of this building."

"I was in my sleeping bag and
I opened by eyes and in the
doorway was a little girl,"
said Sgt. Robin Hairston of
the California National Guard.
"It wasn't my imagination."

12:52 p.m.
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A Pocatello weatherman who gained attention for an unusual theory that Hurricane Katrina was caused by the Japanese mafia using a Russian electromagnetic generator has quit the television station. Scott Stevens' last appearance on KPVI-TV was Thursday.

His departure comes after station officials learned a link labeled "Make a Donation" on Stevens' Web site,, where he expounds on his theory, opened a payment form connected to Stevens' KPVI e-mail address.

12:11 p.m.
WILMER, Texas (AP) — A jammed highway near Dallas is open again after officials hauled the charred wreckage of a bus off the evacuation route. Officials aren't sure of the exact number, but estimate up to 24 people on the bus died. The bus was evacuating nursing home residents as Hurricane Rita approaches. The company that owns the Brighton Gardens nursing home says 38 residents and six workers were on the bus.

11:21 a.m.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A man who sought safety from Hurricane Katrina in Tennessee was gunned down in the street and died, possibly during a robbery of his Red Cross relief money. Don Maurice Airline, 24, of Metairie, La., was found on a secluded road with five gunshots to his head. Days before he was killed last week, the American Red Cross gave him a debit card worth several hundred dollars.

11:03 a.m.
WILMER, Texas (AP) — A nurse who was driving behind a bus filled with elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita says she saw it start to smoke, and then pull to the side of the road. Tina Jones says, "I saw the smoke, and then there was an explosion."

She pulled over and helped treat minor injuries. And she says she saw at least six bodies. After witnessing the horror, Jones says she'll "probably go home and have a good cry."

10:49 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS (CBS/AP) — Dozens of blocks in a New Orleans neighborhood are now under water. The water is pouring over a patched levee, in the form of a waterfall at least 30 feet wide. "Our worst fears came true. The levee will breach if we keep on the path we are on right now, which will fill the area that was flooded earlier," Barry Guidry with the Georgia National Guard.

10:21 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The situation is getting worse in a neighborhood of New Orleans, where the weakened levees are being tested by new rain from Hurricane Rita.

In the lower Ninth Ward, an Associated Press reporter found flooding in a five-block area, as water seeps through and flows over the top of a levee. He says the water is waist-deep in some spots.

9:42 a.m.
WILMER, Texas (AP) — The bus carrying elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita that caught fire on a gridlocked highway near Dallas, killed as many as 24 people, authorities said.

"Deputies were unable to get everyone off the bus," Dallas County Sheriff's Department spokesman Don Peritz said. He said he believes 24 people were killed, but that number could change.

8:40 a.m.
A Dallas County sheriff's spokesman said about 20 people are dead after a bus carrying elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita that caught fire early Friday on gridlocked Interstate 45.

The bus was engulfed with flames, causing a 17-mile backup on a highway that was already heavily congested with evacuees from the Gulf Coast. Dallas television station WFAA reported 20 people were killed. "There were 45 souls on the bus ... at this point we believe we have about half accounted for," Dallas County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Don Peritz said.

"The early indications are this is a mechanical issue. The driver did survive the accident," Peritz said. "It's my understanding he went back on the bus several times to try to evacuate people." He said there were indications that oxygen used by elderly evacuees could have had a role in the fire.

Check out the


8:32 a.m.
(CBS) — President Bush will go to Texas later today to visit with first responders on stand-by to move emergency supplies into the disaster zone, CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller reports. Mr. Bush will end the day at U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., to monitor the impact of the storm.

8:11 a.m.
(CBS/AP) — A bus carrying Hurricane Rita evacuees caught fire early Friday on gridlocked Interstate 45, killing at least one person and injuring others.

The bus was engulfed with flames, further hampering a 17-mile backup on a heavily congested freeway filled with evacuees from the Gulf Coast. officials say one person was killed and 12 were injured.

7:15 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Before Hurricane Katrina, they were among the poorest of America's poor. In the hardest hit counties, some 305,000 people not only lived in poverty, their families' income fell below 50 percent of the poverty line about $7,500 for a family of three.

Now, many live in strange towns with only a few dollars in their pockets.

They've become a new class of poor, one that makes the old class look well off by comparison. They have not only lost their jobs and their homes; they're also isolated from family and friends, putting them at great risk for depression and substance abuse.

5:35 a.m.
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Houston's I-45 isn't the only traffic jam filled with Hurricane Rita evacuees. I-10 is congested across southern Louisiana.

Janell LeDoux and her husband spent six hours on the freeway and covered just 80 miles from their home near Lake Charles east to Lafayette. And they were only halfway to her sister's house in eastern Louisiana. "I just hope we have something left to go home to. Not like in New Orleans," she said. Four gas stations in Lafayette had run dry. A fifth station had only premium. Billy Landry, a marina manager in Cypremort Point, wasn't going to stay for Rita. He planned to haul himself and thousands of soft-shell crabs to safety. "Since Katrina, everybody seems a little nervous. They don't want to get pulled from rooftops," he said.

5 a.m.
HOUSTON (AP) — University of Houston officials have told the football team to pack for a lengthy trip with Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast. What they don't know is where they'll go.

The original plan was to bus the football team, coaches and support staff — about 125 people — to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. That plan fell through when the state would not authorize the team's move to the base. The Cougars lost their ride when the bus company informed them that they had no drivers for the five buses the school hired.

"It's left us in a real quandary," said Houston athletic director Dave Maggard. The team's Plan B was a charter plane to Tulsa; no word yet on whether that will work.

12:15 a.m.
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Authorities in northern Mexico are preparing shelters for evacuees from Hurricane Rita. In Nuevo Leon state, Governor Natividad Gonzalez sent a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry offering to send medical and rescue crews. Gonzalez also said Nuevo Leon was prepared to set up shelters near the border.

Hotels in Monterrey have agreed to lower room rates by 20 to 30 percent for anyone from the Texas Gulf Coast wanting to take shelter. A toll-free line, 1-800-554-5123, is staffed with bilingual operators to help people find rooms.

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

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