Hurricane Rita made landfall at 3:30 a.m. EDT Saturday just east of Sabine Pass, on the Texas-Louisiana line, as a Category 3 storm with top sustained wind of 120 mph. By 2 p.m., Rita was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Rita knocked out power to more than 1 million customers, including nearly 300,000 in Louisiana. A 6- to 7-foot tidal surge swamped areas of low-lying Jefferson Parish south of New Orleans. The flood-prone cities of Houston and Galveston, Texas, escaped a direct hit.
In southwestern Louisiana, authorities had trouble reaching stranded residents because of blocked roads and savage winds. Rescuers in boats were pulling hundreds of residents from flooded homes along a remote stretch of swampland stretching between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico as seawater poured over levees and into homes.
Fires broke out in Texas and Louisiana, including the historic Strand District in Galveston. Crews began work to plug levees and stop water from pouring into some of New Orleans' hardest-hit neighborhoods, The Associated Press reports.
About 3 million people evacuated a 500-mile stretch of the Texas-Louisiana coast ahead of the storm. Texas' governor urged evacuees to "be patient, stay put." The Energy Department said it appears the oil industry, especially the concentration of refineries in the Houston-Texas City area, may have escaped major damage.