Hurricane Rita Lashes Storm-Weary Gulf Coast

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But Hurricane Rita turned northward so that the worst of the storm missed Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. Still, the hurricane caused damage in Galveston.

"The biggest problem we had was a series of fires that started when power lines came down on buildings. It burned several buildings in Galveston," Read said.

New Orleans Levees Rupture

Hurricane Rita also caused more problems in New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last month. Levees protecting New Orleans from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain gave way during Hurricane Katrina and flooded about 80 percent of the city.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had patched the levees and pumped the water out of the city. But Hurricane Rita sent a seven-foot (two-meter) storm surge into Louisiana's eastern coast, and the weakened levees weren't able to withstand the surge. The levees ruptured in several places yesterday, spilling new floodwaters into parts of New Orleans.

Although Hurricane Rita has moved inland and started to weaken, the storm is expected to continue causing havoc in a part of the country known as Arklatex— the area where the Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas borders meet.

As the storm weakens, its rainfall will increase dramatically. The remnants of Hurricane Rita are expected to stall for two to four days over the region.

"It'll sit and spin and dump rain until there's a system to the west that has to migrate east," said Paul Trotter, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana. "Once that happens, we'll get some sort of reprieve."

But the massive rainfall, which could total as much as 2 feet (60 centimeters), will trigger severe flooding, Trotter said.

Record Season

Hurricane Rita is the fifth powerful hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast since August 2004, when Hurricane Charley came ashore at Punta Gorda on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Several tropical storms also have struck the Gulf Coast, and although these storms weren't as powerful as hurricanes, they still inflicted significant damage.

The relentless pounding of the stormy summers is taking its toll on the psyches of Gulf Coast residents.

"The storms and winds have really caused tremendous aggravation and problems," Trotter said. "It's a strain, not only on your psyche but on your resources, whether it's money, housing, food. Your way of life has changed. You don't have the parts of your life that you normally have—stores, jobs, agriculture, fishing, the things that make your life fruitful."

"In other areas of the country, life still goes on," he added. "But we're being reduced to a third-world country right now until we get transportation and resources."

Because of the massive damage inflicted on New Orleans, the 2005 hurricane season will become the most expensive on record. And the season doesn't end until November 30.

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

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