Rita Downgraded to Category 3, But Still Menaces Gulf Coast

In New Orleans, flooding resumes while tornadoes spawned by hurricane Rita damage parts of Louisiana and Texas.

Still in the Gulf of Mexico, hurricane Rita has downgraded to a category 3 storm, but is still capable of causing considerable damage to the vulnerable Gulf Coast. High winds, sea swells and rains are already threatening recovery efforts in New Orleans, and a number of Texas communities including Houston, Port Arthur, and Galveston are concerned about the impact this storm will have.

The vast majority of Galveston residents have been evacuated successfully, but mayor Lyda Ann Thomas plans on remaining in town until the hurricane passes. Though most people are confident that Galveston’s seawall will divert any seawater that pours over it, this optimism is tempered by the fact that Galveston is vulnerable to hurricane damage in ways that few other cities are. The worst natural disaster in American history occured in 1900, when a hurricane killed thousands of people and virtually obliterated the island of Galveston. The city’s seawall was built thereafter in order to thwart future hurricanes, but many experts question the seawall’s efficacy as a last line of hurricane defense.

With hurricane Katrina still fresh in everyone’s minds, more residents are willing to evacuate in the path of a new hurricane. Mayor Thomas expressed gratitude over successful evacuation efforts. In particular, letting evacuees bring their pets with them has made “all the difference in the world”. This development comes on the heels of hurricane Katrina, when people were told by rescue workers that pets could not be brought along. In New Orleans, many residents opted to stay with their pets, regardless of life-threatening consequences.

Hurricane Rita is expected to make landfall north of Houston by Saturday morning.