Gulf Coast Mobilizes for Round Two as Hurricane Rita Blows In

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - Even while flooded New Orleans is struggling to recover from disastrous Hurricane Katrina, another hurricane is headed for Florida and the Gulf Coast. Now a Category 2 hurricane, Rita is currently passing about 50 miles south of Key West and moving into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Rita is forecast to strengthen during the next 24 hours and is headed for Texas, passing south and west of New Orleans. Weather maps show Rita making landfall on the Texas coast sometime Saturday.

New Orleans residents were allowed back into the city on Sunday and Monday, but Mayor Ray Nagin has suspended re-entry and again ordered an evacuation as Hurricane Rita enters the Gulf, packing sustained winds of 100 miles per hour with higher gusts.

"Re-entry was going very smoothly this weekend. We made a decision, working with federal authorities, based on our ability to bring people safely back and our ability to care for them,” Mayor Nagin said. “However, with Tropical Storm Rita, we have to adjust our plans and err on the side of caution."

Mayor Nagin called for a mandatory evacuation of the East Bank of the city and a voluntary evacuation of the West Bank. Officials will continue to monitor the storm and issue updates as they become necessary.


Hurricane Rita is moving between Cuba and Florida today with winds of more than 100 miles per hour. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The mayor has said that people will not be forcibly removed from mandatory areas. Buses are available to move those without transportation out of the city.

The City of New Orleans requested 200 buses and has 150 available. Beginning 48 hours prior to the storm’s landfall, citizens will be loaded onto buses at the Convention Center downtown and Behrman Stadium in Algiers.

Though much progress has been made in draining the city of floodwaters, more than nine inches of rain or a three foot storm surge could again overwhelm the newly patched levees surrounding New Orleans.

“The flood protection system of southeastern Louisiana does not ensure the city will be protected from flooding resulting from storms or hurricanes,” stressed Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Corps’ New Orleans District commander. “We are working with our federal, state, local and contractor partners to ensure we are prepared to respond to the storm.”

More than 800 filled sandbags are on hand, and an additional 2,500 have been ordered. Work continues around the clock to make emergency repairs to damaged canal walls and levees.

Working with local levee districts and drainage authorities, the Corps has begun re-distributing pumps, construction equipment and materials to municipalities for emergency response.

Efforts continue to evaluate flood control structures in the region to determine what preventive measures can be implemented. “In addition to materials, we have also pre-positioned contractors throughout the region to rapidly respond after severe weather,” Wagenaar said.

In Florida, the Keys have been evacuated and forecasters advise that the storm's outer rain bands with tropical storm force winds and isolated tornadoes will continue across south Florida this afternoon.

A hurricane warning is in effect for all of the Florida Keys and the southern tip of the Florida peninsula


Forecast path of Hurricane Rita as of 5 pm EDT September 20. (Map courtesy NOAA)
Rita is moving westward near 15 mph motion is expect to continue the core of the hurricane will continue to move over the Florida Straits between the City of Havana and the Florida Keys today.

Rita is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of six to eight inches over the Florida Keys, central and northwestern Cuba with maximum of 12 inches. There is a possibility of isolated tornados over the south Florida and the Florida Keys.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, "After working together on response and recovery through six storms, the state of Florida, local officials, and our federal partners have developed a strong relationship that will serve us well as we prepare for Rita."

"President Bush has issued an emergency declaration in Florida per the request of the Governor," said Acting Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) R. David Paulison. "FEMA is pre-positioning rescue personnel and commodities in Florida and we are working very closely with all of our federal, state, and local partners."

As a result of the declaration, FEMA will mobilize equipment and resources necessary to protect public health and safety by assisting law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters, supporting emergency medical needs, meeting immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining human needs and protecting property, in addition to other emergency protective measures.

FEMA has staged 50 truckloads of water and ice and 20 truckloads of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) at federal facilities in Florida. Two Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and two Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces are pre-staged in Florida.

"We in Florida know that even a strong tropical storm or category one hurricane poses serious danger," the governor said. "I appreciate the hard work of our National Guard and first responders, and the cooperation all Floridians as our families get ready to face this latest storm."

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) today urged Alabama residents to be ready to quickly prepare for the possibility of Hurricane Rita buffeting Alabama's Gulf Coast.

Forecasters report the storm is gathering intensity and could soon become a Category 3 hurricane.

Bruce Baughman, the state coordinating officer for AEMA, said "All Alabamians, especially from the Gulf coastal region, should be prepared to have necessary supplies sufficient to last for 72 hours. The storm may strike elsewhere along the Gulf, but it is strongly urged that all of the Alabama coastal population - permanent residents as well as tourists -take these steps quickly for their safety."

Preparations for Rita in Texas include 45 truckloads of water, 45 truckloads of ice, and eight truckloads of MREs that are now being staged, while nine Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces and nine Disaster Medical Assistance Teams are assembling in readiness for action if needed after the storm.