Texas roads jammed by residents fleeing Hurricane Rita

| 9/22/2005

Thousands of vehicles jammed the roadways Thursday afternoon as residents of Galveston, Houston and other Texas communities tried to escape the approaching Hurricane Rita.

Gas stations throughout the regions began to sputter as their fuel supplies dwindled, and some drivers - caught in crawling traffic for as long as 13 hours -turned off their vehicles and pushed them along the clogged highways, keeping up with those people still driving, CNN reported.

Almost all roadways out of the area were overwhelmed with traffic, including Interstate 45 and Highway 290, a major artery between Houston and Austin.

According to the National Weather Service, at 1 p.m. CDT Thursday, Rita's winds had slowed slightly to speeds of about 150 mph, lowering the storm's rating from a Category 5 to a, still extremely dangerous, Category 4. A hurricane becomes a Category 5 when its winds are 155 mph.

The storm is expected to make landfall along the Texas and Louisiana coastline early Saturday. According to media reports, Rita will hit an area that ranges as far south as southern Texas and as far east as central Mississippi,

The storm could also pose major problems for Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, where authorities are still struggling to fortify its weakened levee systems.

According to the National Weather Service's 1 p.m. CDT release, a hurricane warning - meaning hurricane conditions are expected within the next 24 hours - is in effect from Port O'Connor, TX, to Morgan City, LA. A tropical storm warning - meaning tropical storm conditions are expected within the next 24 hours - remains in effect from south of Port O'Connor to Port Mansfield, TX, and for the southeastern coast of Louisiana east of Morgan City to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A tropical storm watch - meaning tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours - is in effect from north of the mouth of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Pearl River, including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, and from south of Port Mansfield to Brownsville, TX.

At 1 p.m. CDT, the center of Rita was located about 435 miles southeast of Galveston and about 430 miles southeast of Port Arthur. Rita is moving toward the west-northwest at about 9 mph. A gradual turn to the northwest is expected during the next 24 to 36 hours.

Hurricane-force winds can extend outward up to 85 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm force winds can extend outward up to 185 miles.

Coastal storm surge flooding of 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels, along with large and dangerous battering waves, can be expected near and to the east of where the center makes landfall.

Tides are currently running about 2 feet above normal along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts in the areas affected by Katrina. Tides in those areas will increase up to 3 to 4 feet and be accompanied by large waves and coastal flooding.

Rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches are possible along the path of Rita, particularly over southeast Texas and western Louisiana. Rainfall totals in excess of 25 inches are possible after Rita moves inland.