Residents of this island city packed up mementoes and pets and started evacuating Wednesday as Hurricane Rita intensified into a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds and threatened to devastate the Texas coast or already-battered Louisiana by week's end.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Galveston and New Orleans, one day after Rita sideswiped the Florida Keys as a Category 2 storm, causing relatively minor damage. Having seen what Katrina did, many residents decided not to take any chances, Guardian informs.
"After this killer in New Orleans, Katrina, I just cannot fathom staying," 59-year-old Ldyyan Jean Jocque said before sunrise Wednesday as she waited for an evacuation bus outside the Galveston Community Center. She had packed her Bible, some music and clothes into plastic bags and loaded her dog into a pet carrier.
The federal government was eager to show it, too, had learned its lesson, after getting pounded for its sluggish reponse to Katrina. It rushed hundreds of truckloads of water, ice and ready-made meals to the Gulf Coast and put rescue and medical teams on standby.
At 8 a.m. EDT, Rita was centered about 195 miles west of Key West and 700 miles southeast of Galveston, moving west at 14 mph. Forecasters predicted it would come ashore Saturday somewhere between northern Mexico and western Louisiana, most likely in Texas.
Meteorologist northern Mexico and western Louisiana, of the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Rita could strengthen to a Category 5 with wind over 155 mph as it moves over the warm waters of the gulf, or it could ease to a Category 3, with wind of less than 130 mph.
In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers raced to patch the city's fractured levee system for fear the additional rain could swamp the walls and flood the city all over again. The Corps said New Orleans' levees can only handle up to 6 inches of rain and a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet.
"The protection is very tenuous at best," said Dave Wurtzel, a Corps official handling some of the repairs.
Engineers and contractors drove a massive metal barrier across the 17th Street Canal bed to prevent a storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain from swamping New Orleans again, and worked around the clock to repair the damaged pumps, concrete floodwalls, earthen berms and waterways that protect the below-sea-level city.