Rita strengthens as it moves toward Texas, Gulf Coast

| 9/21/2005

As the death toll from Katrina climbed past 1,000 Wednesday, residents of the Gulf Coast once again prepared for the onslaught from another massive hurricane.

At 3 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Hurricane Rita's winds had reached sustained speeds of 165 mph, making it a Category 5 hurricane - stronger than Katrina when it landed in Louisiana three weeks ago.

The storm is expected to make landfall sometime Saturday. According to media reports, Rita will hit an area that ranges as far south as the northeast edge of Mexico to as far east as southeastern Louisiana - including New Orleans.

The storm already wreaked havoc on southern Florida earlier this week, briefly flooding roads and knocking out power for more than 24,000 homes, Reuters reported.

Houston and Galveston, TX, are expected to be near the middle of the storm's path when it hits land on Saturday. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for a voluntary evacuation for coastal residents from Corpus Christi all the way south to Port Arthur, CNN reported. On Tuesday, he recalled 1,200 Texas Nation Guard troops from helping with the Katrina relief effort to prepare for Rita's assault, The Associated Press reported.

"Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for New Orleans and Galveston. I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities. And follow them," President George Bush said in a public briefing. "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm. But we got to be ready for the worst."

According to the National Weather Service, at 4 p.m. CDT Wednesday, a hurricane watch - meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours - has been issued for the Gulf of Mexico coast from Port Mansfield, TX, to Cameron, LA.

A tropical storm watch - meaning tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours - has been issued for east of Cameron to Grand Isle, LA, and from south of Port Mansfield to Brownsville, TX.

According to the 4 p.m. CDT National Weather Service forecast, the eye of Hurricane Rita was located about 600 miles east-southeast of Galveston and about 700 miles east-southeast of Corpus Christi.

Rita is moving toward the west at a brisk 13 mph, and this motion is expected to continue during the next 24 hours. Hurricane-force winds extend outward from the center of the storm up to 70 miles, and tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.

Tides are currently running near normal along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts in the areas affected by Katrina, but will increase up to 3 to 4 feet over the next 24 hours.