Could Hurricane Rita's Rain Aid New Orleans Cleanup?

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency was harshly criticized for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina. Pumping the water into the lake was the quickest and easiest solution to getting the water out of New Orleans, he said.

"[FEMA] didn't have time to get pumps to pump it to the Gulf," Reice said. "They were in such a panic to get the city emptied out so they would look better."

Fine Line

Although rainfall from Hurricane Rita could help with the New Orleans cleanup, too much rain would be a major setback.

"Ten to 12 inches [25 to 30 centimeters] of rain in a short period of time could cause havoc. It could cause flash-flooding," said Paul Trotter, a meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana.

Trotter and his staff are closely watching Hurricane Rita as it gathers strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

As of this morning forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami think the storm could make landfall with winds exceeding 130 miles an hour (209 kilometers an hour) somewhere between Morgan City, Louisiana, and the Texas-Mexico border.

The most likely landfall is somewhere near Port Lavaca, Texas, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) northeast of Corpus Christi.

If Hurricane Rita follows the predicted path, it would pass New Orleans while still offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trotter agreed that just the right amount of rainfall from Hurricane Rita could help with the cleanup of New Orleans.

"It could be possible [that some rain might help]," Trotter said. "I don't know the real dynamics.

"If we get some rain from this, hopefully it will be beneficial," he added. "Just enough not to mess up the tarps [covering damaged roofs] and cleanse a bit of the toxins."

But Trotter didn't know where to draw the line between how much rain would help and how much would cause serious problems. "I don't know where the dividing line would be," he said. "Only God knows that."

Hurricane Rita is the latest in a series of powerful storms that have blasted the Gulf Coast since last summer. The onslaught of hurricanes has left Gulf Coast residents dazed, especially in the wake of massive Hurricane Katrina, which inflicted heavy damage from Louisiana to Alabama.

"This certainly has been something," Trotter said of Katrina. "It's an eye-opener for how nature can overtake man."

Hurricane Rita is the 17th named storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which still has more than two months to go.

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic.

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