Rita may rival Katrina's strength, forecasters say

Hurricane Rita, moving westward in the Gulf of Mexico, may grow as strong as Hurricane Katrina, the most costly U.S. disaster, forecasters said.

Thousands of coastal residents in Texas moved inland, including some refugees from New Orleans who fled there after the flooding that followed Katrina's arrival.

Rita is expected to hit land “sometime late Friday,” Colin McAdie, a meteorologist with the center, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“If this becomes a Category 4 or 5 storm, we can expect the same type of damage in this area” as with Hurricane Katrina, said Frank Gutierrez, the homeland security coordinator for Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. Even with less flooding, “we could have just as much damage here,” reports Bloomberg.

According to Boston Globe, Rita grew from a tropical storm to a strong Category 2 hurricane with 110-mph (175-kph) winds on Tuesday as it battered the fragile Florida Keys but its powerful core stayed far enough offshore to spare the island chain its worst.

Rita's future track, raising fears the sprawling storm could bring heavy rains to flooded New Orleans and threaten the recovery of oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana declared a state of emergency and New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded when Katrina shattered its protective levees, was taking no chances. Mayor Ray Nagin said two busloads of people had been evacuated already and 500 other buses were ready to roll.

"We're a lot smarter this time around," he said. "We've learned a lot of hard lessons."

All 80,000 residents had been ordered out of the Florida Keys island chain but many stayed behind in boarded-up homes. Rita's winds pushed seawater, sand and seaweed onto the Overseas Highway, the only road linking the islands to the mainland and flooded some buildings.

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