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Homeland Security

2005 Hurricane Rita

Rita was the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1, 2005. With six weeks left in the official hurricane season forecasters may soon exhaust their list of pre-selected names alphabetical names. Each year 21 common names are reserved for tropical storms. There are just four left for 2005: Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma. After that, they go Greek-as in letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on. Only once, since record-keeping began in 1851, have there been 21 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. That was in 1933 when forecasters didn't regularly name storms.

Just two weeks after Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, Hurricane Rita followed on its heels. Rita was considered especially dangerous given that it came just after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the relative weakness of the levees in and around New Orleans. These levees were not hit by hurricane speed winds but were not able to even hold up to above average rainfall from Rita's periphery because of the destruction previously wrought from Katrina. Hurricane Rita struck the US Gulf Coast coast near the Texas-Louisiana border, missing the large metropolis of Huston and New Orleans but devastating smaller towns in the areas of Port Arthur, Cameron Parish, and Orange County.

The nation's largest concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants is situated along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast just off the path of Hurricane Rita. Plants shut down operations, and hundreds of workers were evacuated from offshore oil rigs. The Governor of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, declared that state officials had been in contact with plants about "taking appropriate procedures to safeguard their facilities." Damage and disruptions caused by Rita were expected to cause already-rising oil and gasoline prices to surge even higher. Another potential risk was the possibility of a toxic spill that could be devastating for plant and animal life in the area.

Rita struck a glancing blow at the Houston area, with the nation's largest concentration of oil refineries, but scored a direct hit around Port Arthur and Beaumont, in the southeast corner of Texas. Power was restored quickly to about nine refineries in the Houston area, though, as of Sept. 29, 2005, four were still not operational. Rita sharply cut the flow of crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico, as oil production halted completely and 93 percent of manned platforms remained empty as of 26 Sept. 2005. According to the federal Minerals Management Service, since Katrina evacuations began, oil companies reportedly lost 34.8 million barrels of oil or 6.4 percent of a full year's production from the Gulf.

Hurricane Rita - Sunday 25 September 2005

Approximately 1.4 million customers in the region remained without power. Many of the small coastal communities near the Texas Louisiana border suffered serious flooding and storm surge damages. Damage assessment crews in Louisiana and Texas reported no major damage to highway infrastructure that had been inspected so far, although they did report heavy debris in many locations. The petrochemical plants in the Texas Gulf Coast area appeared to suffer relatively minor damages.

The evacuation of approximately 1-2 million residents from the potential impact area probably saved many lives as the storm hit landfall with 120 mph winds. Many evacuees were reported to be returnin to their homes to assess damages. Officials reported that returning traffic flows to the Houston area appeared to be moving briskly on Sunday.

Meanwhile in Louisiana, state and local officials performed the task of assessing the devastated communities near the coastal areas where Rita made landfall but where the majority of the residents in New Orleans and the coastal areas had evacuated to safer ground. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was expected to begin repairs as soon as possible to the Industrial Canal levee that has flooded the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Initial assessment called for the area to be pumped dry in as little as one week upon completion of repairs to the levee. The Mayor of New Orleans repeated his vow to let residents of the city's higher elevated neighborhoods return to their homes perhaps as early as Monday or Tuesday.

Several emergency coordinators credited the stockpiling of supplies, early evacuations, and the presence of significant military assets for saving lives. R. David Paulison, Acting Director of FEMA, credited early evacuations as the key to saving lives during Hurricane Rita. He indicated that there were still good supplies of the stockpiled commodities, such as ice, water, and food available to local and state officials. U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard search and rescue teams were at work in Texas and Louisiana shortly after Rita moved through. Emergency response teams transported or rescued more than 2,700 residents and medical teams treated nearly 1,300 patients.

Hurricane Rita - Saturday 24 September 2005

Hurricane Rita swept through east Texas and the Louisiana coast Saturday morning, battering communities with floods and intense winds. However, the storm proved to be less forceful and far less deadly than Katrina. After the storm passed, authorities however pleaded with the roughly 3 million evacuees not to hurry home too soon.

Rita came ashore at 3:30 a.m. EDT Saturday morning, very close to the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 120 mph. It knocked out power for more than 1 million customers, sparked fires across the hurricane zone and swamped Louisiana shoreline towns with a 15-foot storm surge that required boat and helicopter rescues of hundreds of people.

Rita did not hit any major cities directly however, as Houston was largely spared. Damage to the vital concentration of oil refineries along the coast appeared relatively light as Rita was downgraded just before entering the region where most of the oil refineries are located. Though industry officials said it would take awhile to assess whether there would be a short term impact on oil prices. Significantly, Valero Energy Corporation said its 255,000-barrel-per-day Port Arthur refinery sustained significant damage to two cooling towers and a flare stack and would need at least two weeks for repairs.

Some of the worst flooding occurred along the Louisiana coast, where transformers exploded, roofs were torn off and trees uprooted by winds topping 100 mph. Floodwaters were 9 feet deep near the town of Abbeville. Farther west in Cameron Parish, sheriff's deputies watched appliances and what appeared to be parts of homes swirling in the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. An estimated 80 percent of the buildings in Cameron, population 1,900, were leveled. Farther inland, half of Creole, population 1,500, was left in splinters. The region was largely evacuated ahead of Rita, but some residents had stayed behind and hundreds were rescued by helicopter or boat.

New Orleans endured a second straight day of new flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers said that the re-flooded areas could be pumped dry within a week after the levee damage is repaired, much sooner than initially predicted.

Hurricane Rita - Friday 23 September 2005

Rita contained maximum sustained winds near 120 mph with higher gusts, raising the status of Rita to a Category Three hurricane. Its hurricane force winds extended outward up to 85 miles from the center and while its tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 205 miles. There was coastal storm surge flooding 15 feet above normal tide levels and up to 20 feet at head of bays and nearby rivers with large and dangerous battering waves. Tides along southeast Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in areas affected by Katrina were 4 to 6 feet above normal. Large swells generated by Rita affected most portions of the Gulf Coast.

Before the eye wall even reached land, Hurricane Rita's wind-driven storm surge topped one of New Orleans' battered levees and poked holes in another, sending water pouring into neighborhoods just days after they had been pumped dry. An initial surge of water cascaded over a patched levee protecting the impoverished Ninth Ward on Friday, flooding the abandoned neighborhood with at least 6 feet of water. Water poured through gaps in the Industrial Canal levee, which engineers had tried to repair after Katrina's floodwaters left 80 percent of the city under water. The rushing water covered piles of rubble and mud-caked cars in the Ninth Ward, rising swiftly to the top of first-floor windows.

The storm surge was both stronger and earlier than expected, apparently coming through waterways southeast of the city. Water poured over piles of gravel and sandbags in the damaged Industrial Canal levee despite efforts to build it up.

Farther north, water 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) deep was streaming into homes south of Lake Pontchartrain, spouting from beneath two gravel-and-rock patches on the London Avenue Canal levee. Corps engineers said they expected the leaks. Meanwhile, wind-whipped waves pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain over a seawall, and rain runoff with no outlet pooled into city streets. Officials with the corps said other levees around the city appeared secure. The problems were expected to set back repairs at least three weeks though June remained the target for getting the city's levees back to pre-Katrina strength.

The rain in New Orleans was expected to continue throughout the night, but meteorologists were already turning their attention west to the communities in the storm's crosshairs such as Lake Charles and Cameron.

The flooding came as Rita began lashing the Gulf Coast with rain and wind, and up to 500,000 people in southwestern Louisiana headed north. A number of evacuees who had fought hours of gridlock to get out of Texas were frustrated to find they had to keep going to stay out of the storm. Late Friday, southwestern Louisiana was soaked by the storm's outer bands. Ranches and marshlands were under water in coastal Cameron Parish. Empty coastal highways and small towns were blasted with wind-swept rain. Lake Charles, not far from Rita's path along the Texas-Louisiana line, was a virtual ghost town, as were the coastal parishes. Before nightfall, squalls were flattening sugar cane fields and knocking over trees near New Iberia, about 110 miles west of New Orleans.

Hurricane Rita - Thursday 22 September 2005

Hurricane Rita turned into a Category 5 Hurricane with wind speeds of 175 mph. The hurricane was expected to make landfall along the Texas coast Friday night or early Saturday, but with conditions begining to deteriorate much earlier. Even so, storm surge along the Gulf coast had begun late Thursday followed by heavy rainfall early Friday morning. Heavy rains associated with Rita were forecasted to begin to affect the western and central Gulf Coast areas Thursday night and Friday, with Rita expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8-12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches from the central Texas coast to southwestern Louisiana.

In most threatened areas, local and state officials ordered mandatory evacuations to inland areas that were less threatened by the storm. Local, State, and Federal officials were reported to be coordinating emergency preparedness activities from Joint Field Offices in Austin and Baton Rouge. Houston and Galveston came under mandatory evacuation orders. The resulting evacuation of approximately 1.5 million Texans was unprecedented. State officials identified 750 buses and 3 trains that were to be used for evacuations as well as evacuation routes and shelters for use by evacuees. In addition, 5,000 National Guard personnel were activated by Texas' Governor to assist with the evacuation process.

Louisiana officials developed contingency plans for the storm's actions whch resulted in the evacuation of approximately 13,000 New Orleans residents from south of Interstate 10 to higher ground as a precautionary measure. New Orleans also requested an additional 300 buses for its evacuation. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to shore up areas of levee breaches in New Orleans.

Emergency Response teams and supplies and equipment continued to be deployed to areas near the Gulf Coast areas. FEMA deployed 11 National Disaster Medical System teams and 14 Urban Search & Rescue teams to Texas. FEMA also coordinated with the Department of Defense to pre-stage large quantities of essential commodities including water, ice, food, tarps, and generators in locations in both Louisiana and Texas.

In Florida, state officials cancelled the State of Emergency and mandatory evacuations for the southern counties and residents were allowed to return to their homes and businesses.

Hurricane Rita - Wednesday 21 September 2005

The maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Rita increased to near 120 mph with higher gusts. Rita was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane. Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center and Tropical Storm force winds extended outward up to 140 miles. The National Weather Service long range forecast indicated Rita would make landfall on the Texas coast by Saturday, with landfall expected to take place around the Galveston area.

Texas officials begun preparatory actions by issuing mandatory evacuation orders for several Texas coastal counties. Buses to be used for evacuations were identified, in addition to evacuation routes and shelters. Texas State Transportation officials were tasked with ensuring that evacuation routes remained clear and flowing. Texas Department of Public Safety assets were expected to assist with evacuation efforts. Texas also requested the immediate return of all assets deployed to Louisiana.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff designated Rear Admiral Larry Hereth, DHS U.S. Coast Guard to serve as the Principal Federal Official (PFO) to manage the federal response to Hurricane Rita. Local, Texan, and Federal officials coordinated the response efforts from a Joint Field Office located in Austin, Texas. FEMA staged truckloads of water, ice, food, tarps, and generators at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Joint Field Offices in Louisiana , Mississippi , and Alabama were developing contingency plans for Hurricane Rita.

Hurricane Rita - Tuesday 20 September 2005

As forecasted, Hurricane Rita hit the Florida Keys on Tuesday with close to 100 mph winds and heavy rainfall that caused flooding and other storm damages. Initial reports indicated the storm's effects in the Keys were not severe. Thereafted, Rita continued to blow westward into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3 Hurricane and was expected to gain strength during the next 24 hours. A mandatory evacuation issued by Florida's governor was still in effect for all of the Florida Keys and local officials indicated that several thousand residents and visitors had obeyed the order. Approximately 13,000 residents were believed to have remained in the Keys.

State, Regional, and Federal Emergency Operations Centers were maintaining 24/7 operations to prepare for Rita's landfall. Emergency Response teams and supplies and equipment were deployed to areas near the Gulf Coast areas. With Hurricae Rita approaching, local, State, and Federal officials in New Orleans stopped all plans to bring residents back to the flooded city. Instead, they warned residents to prepare to evacuate the city and surrounding areas in the event that Rita bring high winds and heavy rainfall to southern Louisiana.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued to warn local officials and residents about the still-fragile state of the New Orleans levees and their possible inability to withstand high winds and rainfall. Texas officials established a joint federal/state/local operations center in Austin to closely coordinate preparedness and response measures for Rita. One stated priority operation called for the evacuation of Louisiana evacuees from shelters on the Gulf Coast to inland areas. Another critical priority called for the safe evacuation of Texas coastal residents at risk from Rita.

Hurricane Rita - Monday 19 September 2005

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Hurricane Warning for all of the Florida Keys and Florida Bay from Ocean Reef southward and westward to the Dry Tortugas. Rita was moving toward the west near 9 mph. Maximum sustained winds were near 60 mph with higher gusts. Tropical Storm force winds extended outward almost 115 miles. Rita was expected to become a Hurricane during the next 24 hours. Warnings about Tropical Storm Rita's possible effects on New Orleans were expressed for the first time even though the expected path did not include New Orleans. The New Orleans area was believed to be at possible risk for impact from this storm, as a result of heavy rains that would extend miles beyond the eye of the storm.

Hurricane Rita - Sunday 18 September 2005

Rita began as the 18th tropical depression (TD) of the season, forming just to the east of the Turks and Calicos. When discovered the depression was moving toward the west-northwest at about 12 mph and was expected over the next 24 hours. The depression was expected to become a tropical storm during the next day. The projected National Weather Service (NWS) track for #18 was similar to Hurricane Katrina's path. NWS forecasted TD #18 to reach hurricane strength in the vicinity of southern Florida by Tuesday September 20. While the center of the NWS 5-day forecast track took TD #18 into the center of the Gulf of Mexico by Thursday September 22.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:49:49 ZULU