Long convoys of ambulances, police cars and military vehicles sped in a blaze of flashing lights into hurricane-ravaged parts of Texas and Louisiana at the weekend as authorities raced to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina.
And last night, the evacuation of more than 3 million people from the hurricane zone and the enormous presence of emergency teams seemed to have paid off. In contrast to Katrina’s 1,000-plus toll, Hurricane Rita caused only two confirmed deaths, Times Online says.
One person was killed in Belzoni, Mississippi, when a tornado flipped over a mobile home and in east Texas a man died under a falling tree. Elsewhere, empty fishing villages and piers disappeared under the winds and rain but people, safely evacuated inland, survived.
In Houston, which was spared the brunt of Hurricane Rita, city officials set up a voluntary, staggered plan for the return of evacuees who fled the storm's approach on Thursday and Friday. Last week, old buses were pressed into service for the chaotic, mass evacuation and one exploded, killing 23 elderly people from a nursing home.
Across across eastern Texas and Louisiana, news from the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Rita has been positive. Although rescue teams picked up 1,000 people from flooded areas of Vermilion Parish, west of New Orleans, the Gulf Coast is generally thought to have suffered a glancing blow.
Forecasts of Hurricane Rita predicted that the storm would tear through a quarter of the nation’s petrochemical plants, but late last night just one major refinery near the Texas-Louisiana border was facing weeks of repairs. A further 21 refineries in Texas were unaffected.
Meanwhile, widespread flooding was avoided, as Rita dissipated more quickly than expected. The reflooding in New Orleans from levee breaks was contained in neighbourhoods that were already devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
But in some towns, the force of Hurricane Rita was plain. In Cameron Parish, just across the state line from Texas and in the path of the storm's strongest winds, fishing communities were reduced to splinters, with concrete slabs the only evidence that homes once stood there. Debris was strewn for miles by water or wind.
Photo by CNN.