Rita's Remnants Surge Inland, Coast Begins Cleanup

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
September 25, 2005
Floodwaters brought by Hurricane Rita began receding Sunday along the
coast of southwestern Louisiana as the remnants of the storm moved
northeast into Arkansas.

Steve Rinard, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, said floodwaters in that city had already dropped about two and a half feet (three-quarters of a meter) since Saturday, and probably would drop another two feet (two-thirds of a meter) today.

Lake Charles is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) inland from where Rita's eye came ashore early Saturday morning at Cameron Parish, near the Louisiana-Texas boundary.

Hurricane Rita had winds approaching 120 miles an hour (190 kilometers an hour) at landfall, and pushed a storm surge of at least 15 feet (4.5 meters) into Cameron Parish.

As of this morning, the storm that was Hurricane Rita had deteriorated into a tropical depression. At 5 a.m. EDT, the storm was moving northeastward through the Mississippi Valley at a rapid 20 miles an hour (32 kilometers an hour). An additional two to four inches (five to ten centimeters) of rain are expected along the Mississippi River and Ohio River valleys.

But predictions that Rita's remnants would stall for several days over Arkansas and Louisiana and dump as much as two feet (61 centimeters) of rain were never realized.

At one point, Hurricane Rita was a fearsome monster of a storm. As the hurricane plowed across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico last week, it exploded into the third-most powerful hurricane on record for the Atlantic Basin. On the morning of September 22, Rita's strongest winds were blowing at 175 miles an hour (280 kilometers an hour).

Earlier forecasts said Rita might come ashore near Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. Millions of coastal residents moved inland ahead of Hurricane Rita in one of the largest evacuations in the nation's history.

But the hurricane began to weaken as it approached landfall. Rinard said the exact cause of the weakening isn't known yet, but said the storm probably ran into upper-level winds —known as wind shear—that weakened it.

"When it was in the middle of the Gulf, it had perfect circulation," Rinard said. "On the day before landfall, the west side was becoming ruffled. The eye was shaky. It wasn't a nice, circular eye. It was kind of ragged. That probably was caused by some kind of wind shear. The upper atmosphere was not conducive to this thing continuing."

Lake Charles Cleans Up

In Lake Charles, the cleanup and recovery effort was underway Sunday morning. Although floodwaters had receded, downed trees and utility poles blocked many streets and highways around the city.

"[On] the road we come in on [to the National Weather Service office], one power pole is snapped off about halfway up, and several others are leaning at a 45-degree angle," Rinard said.

Not all of Lake Charles was flooded, but at one point as the hurricane moved through, some low-lying areas were under as much as six feet (two meters) of water, Rinard said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has dispatched a survey ship to find and clear debris from the Calcasieu River, which is used by tankers bringing oil to Lake Charles's refineries.

"The NOAA ship will be out there today," Rinard said. "There are refrigerators, appliances, parts of roofs floating down the channel. They've got to get all that cleared before they can allow tankers in here."

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

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