for National Geographic News
The storm-tattered Gulf Coast took another direct hit from a powerful hurricane when Hurricane Rita made landfall in southwestern Louisiana early this morning with winds approaching 120 miles an hour (190 kilometers an hour).
Heavy damage and flooding were reported in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, where the hurricane's eye came ashore with a 20-foot (6-meter) storm surge around 3:30 a.m. EDT. The western border of Cameron Parish is on the Texas-Louisiana boundary. After striking Cameron Parish, Rita's eye moved northwest into Texas.
Authorities don't yet know whether anyone was directly killed by Hurricane Rita. Yesterday, at least 24 senior citizens who evacuated their nursing home in a Houston suburb died when their bus caught fire and burst into flames on Interstate 45 near Dallas.
Today's storm destruction wasn't confined to the coast. Extensive damage was also reported in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) inland.
"We've had numerous reports of winds of over 100 miles [160 kilometers] per hour," said Mike Marcotte, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles.
Lake Charles was not affected by Hurricane Rita's storm surge, however, Marcotte said.
Houston, Galveston Spared
Heavy damage from winds and flooding was also reported in the Texas port cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur.
But the heavily populated cities of Houston and Galveston, which sat in Rita's bulls eye several days ago, were spared the worst of the hurricane's pounding. Rita's threat to that area prompted a mass evacuation that clogged highways as millions of coastal residents drove inland to avoid the storm.
Bill Read, meteorologist in charge of the Houston-Galveston National Weather Service office, said those cities experienced a few wind gusts of about 75 miles an hour (120 kilometers an hour).
Earlier this week, Hurricane Rita exploded into the third-most powerful hurricane on record for the Atlantic Basin. At that time, the storm's strongest winds were blowing at 175 miles an hour (280 kilometers an hour) and Rita seemed headed for a landfall in Galveston Bay.
As the storm churned westward, local officials feared a repeat of the spectacular tragedy of 1900, when a powerful hurricane came ashore at Galveston and killed at least 6,000.
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