Hurricane Rita began lashing New Orleans on Thursday, the first rainfall since Katrina, raising fears that the patched-up levee system could fail and swamp the city all over again.
A direct hit from Hurricane Rita was still unlikely, but the Category 5 storm veered on a more northerly course on its way to the Texas coast and a tropical storm warning extended as far east as New Orleans. Already, forecasts for southeast Louisiana called for between 3 and 5 inches (8 and 13 centimeters) of rain.
Engineers warned residents that the fractured levees can only handle up to 6 inches of rain and a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3 1/2 meters).
"We're already getting a few spotty showers in the New Orleans area," meteorologist Robert Ricks said. "There are going to be brief periods of brief heavy downpours as these squall bands move through."
The new forecasts added urgency to the efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to shore up levees with sandbags and add portable pumps through the city in anticipation of more flooding.
"Right now, it's a wait and see and hope for the best," said Corps spokesman Mitch Frazier, reports the AP