Thousands of Americans in fear of Hurricane Rita escape from Gulf Coast cities

Mexican families fleeing Hurricane Rita arrived in this border city in hundreds of sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks, some carrying pets, refrigerators and television sets, to hunker down with relatives south of the border.

They came from Houston, Galveston, South Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Pasadena and other Gulf Coast cities in Texas, and waited an average of one hour to purchase a government temporary import permit for their cars.

Ignacio Sanchez, 73, his 19-year-old daughter and a labrador retriever took 15 hours to get from Houston to Nuevo Laredo, a 300-mile trip, and were resting up late Thursday before heading to San Luis Potosi, a state in central Mexico.

"If we hadn't seen what happened in Louisiana, we'd probably still be in Texas," Sanchez, a retired mechanic, said.

Thousands of Mexicans live and work in Texas, but still have family _ or even second homes, in Mexico. With Rita bearing down on the Gulf coast, many felt it was time to go home, at least for a week or so, the AP reports.Americans

Moises Ramirez was one of hundreds crossing into Mexico. A carpenter and home owner from Pasadena, Texas, he left behind his job and house to stay with his parents in Monclova, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Laredo.

Traveling with six other family members, Ramirez said he worried what he would have to come back to, but he wasn't ready to risk staying in the path of the storm.

"What happened in New Orleans could also happen there," he said, referring to Texas.

Nuevo Laredo authorities said families crossing from Texas started arriving in this border city late Wednesday and by Thursday morning more than 1,000 people had crossed into Mexico.

"Hearing Rita was one of the most powerful hurricanes in the history of the Gulf was enough for me to leave," said Roberto Garcia, who left his home in Corpus Christi and was heading to San Nicolas de los Garza, a suburb of Monterrey, where his family lives.

The influx of Mexicans fleeing the Texas Gulf Coast was expected to increase in the coming hours and authorities were adding more customs agents and personnel at the government import permit office along the Mexican border with Texas.

The Mexican government also announced that it was shifting its Houston consulate from a high-risk neighborhood to a temporary office at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Houston.

The Foreign Relations Department said it also reinforced staffing at consulates in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas to help Mexican citizens living in the area.

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