Hurricane Rita

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For other storms of the same name, see Tropical Storm Rita (disambiguation).
Hurricane Rita
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS)
HurricaneRita21Sept05a.jpg
Hurricane Rita on September 21 at 1910 UTC
Formed September 18, 2005
Dissipated September 26, 2005
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 285 km/h (180 mph)
Lowest pressure 895 mbar (hPa); 26.43 inHg
Fatalities 97 – 125 total
Damage $12 billion (2005 USD)
Areas affected Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Canada, Europe
Part of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Rita was the fourth–most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which included three of the six most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever (along with #1 Wilma and #6 Katrina), Rita was the eighteenth named storm, tenth hurricane, and fifth major hurricane of the 2005 season. Rita formed near The Bahamas from a tropical wave on September 18 that originally developed off the coast of West Africa. It moved westward, and after passing through the Florida Straits, Rita entered an environment of abnormally warm waters. It rapidly intensified to reach peak winds of 180 mph (285 km/h) on September 20. After steadily weakening and beginning to curve to the northwest, Rita gradually weakened and made landfall on Sabine Pass, Texas with winds of 120 mph (195 km/h) on September 24. It weakened over land and degenerated into a large low-pressure area over the lower Mississippi Valley on September 26.

In Louisiana, the storm surge from Rita inundated low-lying communities near the coast, worsening effects caused by Hurricane Katrina less than a month prior. The surge topped levees, allowing water to surge further inland. Lake Charles suffered from severe flooding. Areas in Texas suffered from extensive wind damage. Nine counties in the state were declared disaster areas after the storm. Electric service was disrupted in some areas of both Texas and Louisiana for several weeks. Texas reported the most deaths from the hurricane, where 113 deaths were reported.

Moderate to severe damage was reported across the lower Mississippi Valley. Rainfall from the storm and its associated remnants extended from Louisiana to Michigan. Rainfall peaked at 16.00 in (406 mm) in Central Louisiana. Several tornadoes were also associated with the hurricane and its subsequent remnants. Throughout the path of Rita, damage totaled about $12 billion (2005 USD, $15.4 billion 2014 USD). As many as 120 deaths in four U.S. states were directly related to the hurricane.

Meteorological history[edit]

The path of a tropical cyclone on a map as represented by colored dots. Each dot represents the storm's intensity at six-hour intervals.
Map showing the path of the storm; the points indicate the storm's position and intensity at six-hour intervals, and is colored using the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale.

On September 7, 2005, a tropical wave emerged off the west coast of Africa and moved westward into the Atlantic Ocean. Failing to produce organized, deep atmospheric convection,[1] the disturbance was not monitored by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for tropical cyclogenesis.[2] Convection associated with the system increased for a brief period of time late on September 13 before dissipating shortly thereafter. At roughly the same time, a remnant surface trough had developed from a dissipating stationary front and began to drift westward north of the Lesser Antilles.[1] Meanwhile, the tropical wave slowly became better organized and was first noted in the NHC's Tropical Weather Outlooks on September 15 while situated northeast of Puerto Rico.[3] The wave merged with the surface trough two days later, triggering an increase in convective activity and organization. A subsequent decrease in wind shear enabled for additional organization, and at 0000 UTC on September 18, the NHC estimated that the storm system had organized sufficiently to be classified as a tropical depression,[1] the eighteenth disturbance during the hurricane season to do so. At the time, the disturbance, classified as Tropical Depression Eighteen,[4] was located roughly 80 mi (130 km) east of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos and had developed banding features.[1][5]

Situated in generally favorable conditions for tropical development, the depression quickly organized, and attained tropical storm strength at 1800 UTC that day based on data from reconnaissance flights and nearby ships and weather buoys. As a result, the tropical storm was named Rita.[1][6] However, an increase in moderate southerly vertical wind shear as the result of a nearby upper-level low subdued continued intensification and displaced convective activity to the north of Rita's center of circulation. Once the upper-level low weakened, a reformation of Rita's center of circulation to the north compensated for the disorganization that resulted from the wind shear. Consequently, the tropical storm resumed its previous strengthening trend as it was steered westward across The Bahamas along the southern periphery of a ridge.[1][7] Upon entering the Straits of Florida on September 20, Rita strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane by 1200 UTC,[8] while maintaining a minimum barometric pressure of 985 mbar (hPa; 29.09 inHg). Six hours later, Rita intensified further into a Category 2 hurricane before subsequently passing approximately 45 mi (75 km) south of Key West, Florida.[1] Aided by a favorable outflow pattern and anomalously warm sea surface temperatures  (SSTs), the trend of rapid intensification continued,[8] and Rita reached Category 3 hurricane status upon entering the Gulf of Mexico by 0600 UTC on September 21, making it a major hurricane.[1][7]

Colorized satellite image of a tropical cyclone. While bluer colors indicate areas of warmer cloud tops, indicative of marginal convective activity, redder and whiter colors indicate areas of colder cloud tops, indicative of stronger convective activity.
Infrared image of Hurricane Rita at peak intensity on September 21

Once in the Gulf of Mexico, Rita passed over the extremely warm Loop Current during the midday hours of September 21, enabling continued strengthening. As a result, the hurricane's wind field significantly expanded and the storm's barometric pressure quickly fell.[1] By 1800 UTC that day, Rita attained Category 5 hurricane intensity,[9] the highest intensity classified on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale.[10] Favorable conditions allowed for additional development, and at 0300 UTC on September 22, Rita reached its peak intensity with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (285 km/h) and a minimum barometric pressure of 895 mbar (hPa; 26.43 inHg), making it the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, it was located 310 mi (500 km) south of the Mississippi River Delta.

Rita maintained Category 5 hurricane intensity for 18 hours before an eyewall replacement cycle took place, weakening the hurricane to Category 4 intensity by 1800 UTC on September 22. At the same time, the tropical cyclone began to curve northwestward around the southwestern periphery of a ridge of high pressure situated over the Southeastern United States. As a result of the cycle, a new, larger eyewall consolidated, resulting in the expansion of Rita's wind field. Due to the presence of wind shear and cooler continental shelf waters, the hurricane continued to weaken, contrary to typical tropical cyclone processes that occur after eyewall replacement cycles. Rita degenerated into a Category 3 hurricane prior to making landfall at 0740 UTC on September 24 in extreme southwestern Louisiana between Johnson Bayou and Sabine Pass. At the time, Rita was a low-end Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph (185 km/h) and a barometric pressure of 937 mbar (hPa; 27.67 inHg).[1]

Once inland on September 24, Rita began to rapidly weaken.[11] The tropical cyclone had been downgraded to tropical storm intensity nearly 12 hours after landfall, while situated just 40 mi (65 km) inland. Proceeding northward roughly parallel to the state border between Louisiana and Texas,[1] radar imagery indicated that the storm soon lacked winds of tropical storm-force. Therefore, the NHC classified the system as a tropical depression while it was situated over Arkansas by 0600 UTC on September 25,[12] shortly before it turned northeastward ahead of an approaching frontal boundary. Early the following day, the depression lost much of its convection over southeastern Illinois, and degenerated into a remnant low by 0600 UTC that day. The frontal boundary subsequently absorbed the remaining system six hours later over the southern Great Lakes region.[1]

Preparations[edit]

Bahamas[edit]

Satellite image of a rather weak tropical cyclone - the storm is an elongated mass of clouds, stretching horizontally.
Tropical Storm Rita over the eastern Bahamas on September 18

At 0300 UTC on September 18, a tropical storm warning was issued for the Turks and Caicos and the Southeast and Central Bahamas. At the same time, a hurricane watch was also issued for the northwest Bahamas. By 0600 UTC the following day, the hurricane watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning for the northwest Bahamas excluding Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands which were later put under a tropical storm warning. Several hours later, a hurricane warning was issued for Exuma and Andros Island. At 1800 UTC, the tropical storm warning for the Turks and Caicos was discontinued as the threat from Rita diminished. This discontinuation later included the southeast Bahamas. By 1500 UTC on September 20, all watches and warnings for the islands were discontinued as Rita moved into the Gulf of Mexico.[1] Residents in the Bahamas were urged to board up their homes and stock up on emergency supplies.[13] At least one shelter was opened and schools throughout the country were closed.[14] The Nassau International Airport was also closed due to the storm on September 19 and would remain closed until the evening of September 20.[15]

Cuba[edit]

Officials in Cuba warned residents of possible impacts from Rita and closed public facilities in northern areas. Some evacuations took place in villages near the northern coastline and several shelters were opened.[16] An estimated 150,000 people were evacuated in northern Cuba ahead of the storm. About 600 shelters were opened in Havana which could house a total of 120,000 people. In western Cuba, more than 42,000 were given shelter in Matanzas, 31,000 in Villa Claro and 6,300 in Sancti Spiritus.[17] In Havana, power was turned off at noon on September 19 to protect transformers, this also led to the disruption of natural gas lines.[18] A large-scale preparation was put in place by the Ministry of Health in Cuba. A total of 14,859 medical personnel were mobilized to quickly assist residents impacted by Rita. The personnel consisted of 3,767 doctors, 5,143 nurses, 2,139 specialists, 1,072 health officials, and 2,738 other staff members. A total of 519 vehicles were also mobilized; it included 241 ambulances, 36 trucks, 21 panels, and 221 other vehicles. Throughout northern Cuba, a total of 1,486 shelters were opened, most of which were filled during the evacuation.[19]

Florida[edit]

Satellite image of a strengthening hurricane passing between two landmasses. The hurricane has also developed an eye.
Hurricane Rita as a Category 2 hurricane crossing the Florida Straits

On September 18, when Rita was declared a tropical storm, phased evacuations began in the Florida Keys. All tourists were told to evacuate the Lower Keys immediately and residents in mobile homes were told to prepare to evacuate.[20] By September 20, mandatory evacuations were in place for the 80,000 residents of the Keys. Both lanes on Route 1 were directed northbound to speed up evacuations. City busses picked up those who did not have transportation out of the Keys. An estimated 2.3 million people in Miami-Dade County were warned about the possibility of a direct hit on Miami and told to prepare to evacuate.[21] A State of Emergency was declared ahead of Rita later that day by President George W. Bush. This would allow federal assistance to aid the affected areas in the wake of the storm.[22] Throughout Florida, a total of 340,000 people were placed under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.[23]

Five shelters were opened in southern Florida with a total capacity of 4,335 people. Tolls on northbound roads were lifted in Monroe County. A total of four hospitals, three assisted living facilities, and two nursing homes were evacuated. Military support in the form of 7,000 soldiers, eight Black Hawk helicopters, two Chinook helicopters, three Kiowa helicopters, one Huron aircraft, one Short 360 aircraft, one Hercules aircraft, and one Metroliner aircraft was provided. A task force was put on standby in Homestead Joint Air Reserve Base to quickly deploy in affected areas.[24]

The United States Department of Agriculture prepared food to deliver to affected areas after Rita. The United States Department of Defense deployed personnel to coordinate evacuations. The United States Department of Health and Human Services sent fully equipped medical teams and supplies if needed. The United States Department of Homeland Security pre-positioned over 100 trucks of ice and packed food to deliver following Rita. Two helicopters and one Cheyenne aircraft were also provided to assist with recovery efforts. The United States Department of the Interior shut down all national parks in Florida and evacuated workers in low-lying areas.[25] Military cargo planes evacuated hospital patients from three acute-care hospitals in the Keys.[26]

Louisiana[edit]

Residents of Cameron Parish, Calcasieu Parish, and parts of Jefferson Davis Parish, Acadia Parish, Iberia Parish, Beauregard Parish, and Vermillion Parish were told to evacuate ahead of the storm. Cameron Parish was hit the hardest with the towns of Creole, Cameron, Grand Chenier, Johnson Bayou, and Holly Beach being totally demolished. Records around the Hackberry area show that wind gusts reached over 180 mph at a boat tied up to a dock. The people were told to be evacuated by Thursday, September 22, 2005 by 6:00 pm. Two days later, parish officials returned to the Gibbstown Bridge that crosses the Intracoastal Canal into Lower Cameron Parish. No one was known to be left in the parish as of that time on Thursday, September 22, 2005.[27]

Texas[edit]

Motorists stranded on Highway 60 during Hurricane Rita evacuation.

Texas Governor Rick Perry recalled all emergency personnel, including almost 1,200 Texas National Guard and 1,100 Texas State Guard members from Katrina recovery efforts, and several hundred Texas Game Wardens in anticipation of Hurricane Rita's arrival. In addition, the Federal Government responded by deploying 11 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs),[28] mobile field hospitals, to stage across eastern Texas. The teams treated 7500 patients during the response.[29][30] On September 22, Governor Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation implemented a contraflow lane reversal on Interstate 45 north towards Dallas, on Interstate 10 west towards San Antonio, U.S. Highway 290 northwest to Austin.[31]

As part of the evacuation, Johnson Space Center in Houston handed off control of the International Space Station to their Russian counterparts.[32]

Concerns had been raised over the state of the oil industry in response to Rita. The storm threatened a large amount of oil infrastructure that was left undamaged by Katrina.[33] The Texas Gulf Coast is home to 23% of the United States' refining capacity, and numerous offshore production platforms were in Rita's path.[34] A direct strike on Houston could disable more than a quarter of the United States' fuel-making capacity.[35] Valero Energy Corp, the nation's largest refiner, stated on September 21 that Rita could have caused gasoline prices to rise well above $3 per US gallon ($0.79/L), at a time when the U.S. average price was $2.77/gal.[36]

Mass evacuation[edit]

Just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the northern Gulf Coast, the threat of yet another major hurricane prompted mass evacuations in coastal Texas. An estimated 2.5 – 3.7 million people fled prior to Rita's landfall,[37][38] making it the largest evacuation in United States' history.[1]

Officials in Galveston County (which includes the city of Galveston), which was devastated by the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, ordered mandatory evacuations, effective September 21 at 6 p.m., in a staggered sequence. Officials designated geographical zones in the area to facilitate an orderly evacuation. People were scheduled to leave at different times over a 24-hour period depending on the zone in which the people were located. The scheduled times were set well in advance of the storm's possible landfall later in the week, but not soon enough to ensure that all residents could evacuate safely in advance of the storm.[39] Nonetheless, many residents remained in the county because they were either unaware of the danger of the storm or believed that it was more important to protect their belongings, particularly in the wake of looting following Hurricane Katrina.[40] The evacuation included transfer of all inpatients from the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital to other regional hospitals.[41] 400 patients were prisoners under the ward of the Texas Department of Corrections.[42] These patients were systematically transferred to the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler.[43]

Officials of Harris County hoped that the designation of zones A, B, and C would help prevent bottlenecks in traffic leaving the area similar to those seen at New Orleans prior to Katrina and Hurricane Dennis earlier that year.[44] Also, people in certain zones were to be forced to go to certain cities in Texas and were not allowed to exit their designated routes except for food and gas — another feature of the evacuation plan which officials hoped would keep traffic flow orderly.

The evacuation-destination cities included Austin, College Station, San Antonio, Dallas, Huntsville, and Lufkin, Texas. Evacuees were asked to try hotels in the Midland/Odessa area when hotels began to sell out in other areas.[45]

On Wednesday, Houston mayor Bill White urged residents to evacuate the city, telling residents, "Don't wait; the time for waiting is over," reminding residents of the disaster in New Orleans.[46] After heavy traffic snarled roads leading out of town and gas shortages left numerous vehicles stranded, Mayor White backed off his earlier statement with, "If you're not in the evacuation zone, follow the news," advising people to use common sense.[46] However by 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, the freeway system in Houston was at a stand-still.[47]

To the east of Houston, officials had set up evacuation routes in response to the slow evacuation of residents prior to Hurricane Lili.[48] During the Rita evacuation, these preparations and their execution were overwhelmed by the enormous and unprecedented number of people fleeing from the Houston area prior to the departure of local residents.[39] By the time Jefferson County began their mandatory evacuation, local roads were already full of Houstonians.[49] Traffic on designated evacuation routes was forced to go far slower than the speeds experienced with any previous hurricane.[50][51]

By late Thursday (22nd) morning, the contraflow lanes had been ordered opened after officials determined that the state's highway system had become gridlocked.[52] The Texas Department of Transportation was unprepared to execute such a large-scale evacuation.[53] Coordination and implementation of the contraflow plan took 8 to 10 hours as inbound traffic was forced to exit. Police were stationed to assist with traffic flow. Evacuees fought traffic Wednesday afternoon through mid-day Friday, moving only a fraction of the normal distance expected.[39] Average travel times to Dallas were 24–36 hours, travel times to Austin were 12–18 hours and travel times to San Antonio were 10–16 hours, depending on the point of departure in Houston.[54] Many motorists ran out of gas or experienced breakdowns in temperatures that neared 100 °F (38 °C). Gas stations reportedly ran out of gasoline, forcing some evacuees to fill up with diesel, which is incompatible with gasoline engines, enabling them to leave the area but left them with expensive car repair bills afterwards. Traffic volumes did not ease for nearly 48 hours as more than three million residents evacuated the area in advance of the storm.[39]

Evacuation deaths[edit]

As an estimated 2.5 – 3.7 million people evacuated the Texas coastline, a significant heat wave affected the region. The combination of severe gridlock and excessive heat led to between 90 and 118 deaths even before the storm arrived.[37][38] Reports from the Houston Chronicle indicated 107 evacuation-related fatalities. Texas Representative Garnet Coleman criticized the downplay of the deaths in the evacuation and questioned whether the storm would be deadlier than the preparations.[55] According to local officials, the traffic reached a point where residents felt safer riding out the storm at home rather than being stuck in traffic when Rita struck.[37] Many evacuees periodically turned off their air conditioning to reduce fuel consumption as well as drank less water to limit the number of "restroom stops." According to a post-storm study, which reported 90 evacuation-related deaths, nine peopled perished solely as a result of hyperthermia. However, it was suspected that most of the 67 deaths attributed to heat stress were a combination of hyperthermia and chronic health conditions.[38] In addition to the heat-related deaths, 23 nursing home evacuees were killed after a bus caught fire on Interstate 45 near Wilmer.[38] The bus erupted into flames after the vehicle's rear axle overheated, due to insufficient lubrication, and ignited therapeutic oxygen tanks on board.[56] According to a resident near the site of the accident, there were three explosions.[57] Many of the passengers were mobility-impaired making escape difficult or impossible.[58] In June 2009, nearly four years after the fire, families of those who died in the accident won an $80 million settlement against the manufacturer of the bus and the company that provided the nursing home with it.[56]

Impact[edit]

Hurricane Rita Rainfall

In some areas, the effects of Hurricane Rita were not nearly as severe as anticipated. The storm surge feared in Galveston and Houston struck farther east as the storm's center came ashore at the Louisiana border; winds blowing offshore in Texas actually flattened the surge, which was only seven feet (2 m), well below the height of the Galveston seawall. The five inches (130 mm) of rain expected to fall overnight in New Orleans also did not happen, and the pressure on the levee system was eased. Still, storm surge of 17 feet (3.2 m) struck southwestern Louisiana, and coastal parishes experienced extensive damage. In Cameron Parish the communities of Holly Beach, Hackberry, Cameron, Creole and Grand Chenier were essentially destroyed.[59] In Calcasieu Parish the communities of Lake Charles, Moss Bluff, Sulphur, Westlake, Vinton and DeQuincy also suffered heavy damage. In Beauregard Parish the communities of DeRidder and Merryville also suffered heavy damage.

An estimated two million people lost electricity.[60] Total damage is estimated at approximately $12 billion, making Rita the ninth-costliest storm in U.S. history.[1]

Following Rita, gas prices fell in the U.S instead of rising as feared.

Deaths[edit]

State State total County/Parish Reported
deaths
Direct
deaths
Florida 2 [61] Escambia 1[61] 1
Walton 1[61] 1
Louisiana 1 [61] Calcasieu 1[1] 1
Mississippi 4 [62] Humphreys 1[63] 1
Pike 3[64] 0
Texas 113 [62] Angelina 2[65] 1
Dallas 23[62] 0
Galveston 36[66] 0
Harris 35[67] 0
Jefferson 6[68] 0
Liberty 2[69] 2
Montgomery 2[67] 0
Shelby 1[70] 0
Walker 5[71] 0
Totals 120 [72] 120 7
Because of differing sources, totals may not match.

The reported death toll for Hurricane Rita was 120. Only seven were direct deaths. One was caused by a tornado spawned in the storm's outer bands, one was due to storm surge flooding and three others were caused by trees blown down in the storm. The two Florida deaths both occurred in rip currents caused by Rita's distant waves.

Direct deaths are those caused by the direct effects of the winds, flooding, tornadoes, storm surge or oceanic effects of Rita. Indirect deaths are caused by hurricane-related accidents (including car accidents, crimes, fires or other incidents), cleanup and evacuation incidents and health issues (such as poisoning, illnesses, lack of emergency aid).

Caribbean[edit]

As Rita developed near the Turks and Caicos Islands, it dropped up to 5 in (130 mm) of rain but caused little damage. Throughout the Bahamas, swells produced by Rita reached 10 ft (3.0 m) and storm surge was estimated at 3 to 5 ft (0.91 to 1.52 m).[73] Strong winds were reported across the islands, but no damage resulted from the storm.[74]

In Cuba, Rita produced winds up to 65 mph (100 km/h) and more than 5 in (127 mm) of rain in some areas. This resulted in significant structural damage but no loss of life.[18][75] In the Bay Shore area of Havana, water levels rose and inundated 20 blocks of the city.[18] An estimated 400,000 people in the city lost power a result of the storm.[76] In a two-hour span, more than 8.2 in (210 mm) of rain fell in Bauta.[77] The torrential rains led to 34 homes collapsing in Havana. Storm surge produced by Rita penetrated an estimated 330 ft (100 m) inland, flooding several towns.[76]

Florida[edit]

Rita produced moderate rains across southern Florida, peaking at 5.13 in (130.3 mm) in Tenraw.[1] A band of rain, estimated to be 20 mi (32 km) wide produced heavier rain, with doppler radar estimating some totals over 10 in (254 mm).[78] Most of the Florida Keys received 3 in (76.2 mm) of rain or more. The highest sustained winds were recorded at 20:32 UTC (3:32 p.m. EDT) on September 20 in Key West at 62 mph (99 km/h). Gusts in Key West were recorded at 76 mph (122 km/h). A maximum storm surge of 5 ft (1.5 m) was recorded,[1] which flooded at least 200 homes throughout four blocks in Key West.[79] Floodwaters up to 3 ft (0.9 m) deep reached the runways at Key West International Airport.[1] A storm surge of 1.5 ft (0.4 m) was recorded in Miami, although no flooding was reported. Minor erosion also occurred on south-facing beaches. At the height of the storm, an estimated 126,000 people were without power.[78] One funnel cloud was reported along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth. Winds were estimated at 30–40 mph (48–64 km/h).[80] High seas from Rita on September 22 flooded parts of coastal Walton County. Moderate beach erosion also occurred as a result of the high seas. Damages from the flooding estimated at $200,000.[81] Damages in southern Florida were minimal.[1] On September 24, strong rip currents produced by the remnants of Rita resulted in the death of one person near Miramar Beach.[82]

Louisiana[edit]

Holly Beach, a town along the Gulf Coast completely destroyed by Rita

Hurricane Rita caused catastrophic damage in Louisiana, particularly in the southwestern areas of the state.[1] Most of the damage resulted from the hurricane's storm surge which topped levees and inundated low-lying communities. In southern Terrebonne Parish, water rise reached 7 ft (2.1 m) flooding an estimated 10,000 homes. Already devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the Industrial Canal in New Orleans was again flooded by Hurricane Rita as the broken levees were breached once more. Along the coastline of Cameron Parish, the towns of Creole, Holly Beach, Grand Chenier and Cameron. Nearly 95 percent, roughly 5,000 homes, were severely damaged or destroyed in the parish. There, storm surge was estimated around 15 ft (4.6 m). The surge traveled up the Calcasieu ship channel and flooded parts of Calcasieu Parish. In downtown Lake Charles, water rise was estimated up to 8 ft (2.4 m), inundating the civic center. In Vermilion Parish, storm surge up to 10 ft (3.0 m) completely flooded Pecan Island, Intracoastal City, and Delcambre.[83] Nearly all of the structures on Pecan Island were destroyed.[1] Throughout the state, damages were estimated to be $8 billion and one person was killed.[1][83]

Damage in southwestern Louisiana was extensive. In Cameron Parish, the communities of Hackberry,[84] Cameron, Creole, Grand Chenier, Holly Beach, and Johnson Bayou were heavily damaged or entirely destroyed. A casino boat and several barges were floating loose in Lake Charles and damaged a bridge spanning Interstate 10 across the Calcasieu River. Lake Charles experienced severe flooding, with reports of water rising 6–8 feet in areas around Lake Calcasieu. At a hotel on the Contraband Bayou, water was reportedly up to the second floor. There was also extensive damage to its regional airport.[85] Damage to the city's electrical system was so severe that authorities warned that power would not return for two weeks, if not longer.

Holly Beach was almost completely leveled by Rita's storm surge

In Vinton, several fires burned, the roof was torn off the town's recreation center and many homes were damaged by fallen trees. Widespread flooding was reported in coastal parishes. In Terrebonne Parish, virtually every levee was breached.[86] Some people were stranded in flooded communities and had to be rescued by boat. At least 100 people were reported rescued from rooftops, as at least 25 more remained stranded.[87]

Throughout the state, widespread power outages occurred, with roughly 1 million residences losing power due to the storm. Entergy Louisiana reported the largest outage, with 601,183 customers losing power after Rita.[88]

In Vermilion Parish south of Abbeville, rescue efforts were undertaken for up to 1,000 people stranded by local flooding. On Saturday, September 24, 250 people were rescued.[89]

After being reduced to a tropical storm, Rita entered DeSoto and Caddo Parishes. The eye passed just west of Downtown Shreveport before crossing the Arkansas border. At the height of the storm over 175,000 people had lost power in the National Weather Service Shreveport's forecast area, mainly across Deep East Texas into northwest Louisiana. Two fatalities occurred in the Ark-La-Tex. A tree fell on one person; the other fatality occurred when a teenager was electrocuted when picking up a "hot" power line. Shreveport recorded its 2nd lowest pressure ever recorded as the center of Rita moved through Shreveport around 6 pm Saturday evening. The pressure recorded was 29.05 inches (983.7 mb) which was only .01 inch higher than the lowest pressure on record of 29.04 inches back on February 27, 1902.[90]

Mississippi[edit]

In Mississippi, Rita produced widespread rainfall upon its landfall in Louisiana;[91] however, most of the rain fell early on September 25 as a band of heavy rain developed over parts of western Mississippi, northeast Louisiana and southern Arkansas, resulting in up to 10 in (250 mm) of rain around the Big Black River[92] in the span of a few hours.[93] The heavy rainfall caused significant flooding in Yazoo and Warren Counties. In Yazoo, numerous homes had water inside and countywide damage amounted to $6 million.[94] Damage in Warren County was less than Yazoo, amounting to $2.7 million.[95] Holmes, Hinds and Madison Counties also had flooding, with damage in all three counties amounting to $2 million.[96][97][98] Several roads were also flooded in Monroe County after 6 in (150 mm) of rain fell.[99] Winds up to 70 mph (110 km/h) downed numerous trees throughout the state.[100] In Adams County, winds caused several trees to fall on homes in Natchez, leaving $270,000 in damage.[101] In Warren County, a mobile home was destroyed after a tree was downed by high winds.[102]

An unusually large amount of tornadoes touched down in the state due to Rita, with 54 confirmed tornadoes in Mississippi alone. The size of the tornado outbreak ranked it as the largest recorded by the National Weather Service office in Jackson.[92] An F1 tornado killed one person after tossing a mobile home into the air and destroying it, two other occupants sustained serious injuries.[103] Damage from tornadoes alone in the state amounted to $14.5 million.[100] Six F2 tornadoes touched down in Mississippi,[100] one of these tracked for nearly 18 mi (29 km) and grew to a width of 800 yd (730 m). The tornado caused $2.5 million in damage and injured three people after destroying one building and severely damaging several homes and farms.[104] Another F1 tornado struck a mobile home park, destroying eleven homes, injuring seven people and leaving $2 million in damages.[105] Throughout the state, 2,127 residences lost power due to high winds.[88]

Texas[edit]

Two satellite images showing the extent of flooding caused by Rita in Louisiana and Texas.

In the late evening, a fire broke out in the Strand Historic District of Galveston, Texas, gutting several homes. However, the fire department was able to fight the wind-whipped blaze and prevent it from spreading through the city. No serious injuries were reported in the fire. Around midnight one wall of a vacant restaurant, Yaga's Cafe and Bar, collapsed nearby, which was reportedly as a result of the fire that weakened the walls.[106]

Communities in the "Golden Triangle" formed by Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange sustained enormous wind damage. Texas Governor Rick Perry declared a nine-county disaster area. In Beaumont an estimated 25% of the trees in the heavily wooded neighborhoods were uprooted. In Bridge City, Texas 95% of the town was flooded with 2–4 feet of water. In Groves, the home of Texas's Pecan Festival, an equal number of the pecan trees were leveled. An enormous number of houses and businesses suffered extensive damage from wind and falling trees. The water treatment plant in Port Neches was heavily damaged. Some areas did not have power for more than six weeks.

A mandatory evacuation had been issued before Rita's landfall. Some of those displaced by Rita were offered up to 60 days of hotel rooms, generators, chainsaws, and monetary assistance by FEMA. The "Golden Triangle" area was spared a more devastating storm surge by Rita's slight eastward turn just before landfall, which placed most of the coastal community to the left of the eye and in the storm's least-damaging quadrant. Rita's surge was contained by Port Arthur's extensive levee system. Bolivar Peninsula between Galveston and Sabine Pass experienced only a small storm surge, in contrast to areas east of Rita's center where a 20-foot (6.1 m) surge struck Louisiana's unprotected towns.

Floodwaters and destruction left in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, in an area located near Galveston Bay, Texas.

For the most part, Houston escaped major damage, apart from extensive loss of power. Some windows blew out of some downtown skyscrapers, and some trees and signals were down.[107] Thirty one deaths have been reported in Harris County, of which all of them were indirect (mostly related to the evacuation and cleanup).[108]

Church in Beaumont with roof ripped off by Hurricane Rita.

North of Houston, the 2.5-mile (4.0 km)-wide Lake Livingston dam sustained substantial damage from powerful waves driven by 117 mph winds[109] and officials started an emergency release of water to lessen pressure on the dam. A number of news outlets reported on Sunday, September 25, 2005, that the discharge put lives at risk downstream and threatened a major bridge as well due to a sizable barge coming adrift. Repairs to the dam were expected to take months to complete.[110] After water levels were lowered and an inspection was conducted by national and local experts, the dam was declared stable late on Monday, September 26, 2005.[111]

Elsewhere[edit]

As Hurricane Rita passed to the south of Florida on September 20,[1] outer bands to the north produced minor rainfall in parts of southern Georgia, peaking near 3 in (76 mm).[91] In Alabama, the storm produced 22 weak tornadoes, mainly rated F0, causing minor isolated damage amounting to roughly $1.2 million.[100] Heavy rains also fell in association with Rita in the state. Most of the western portions of Alabama received more than 3 in (76 mm), with south-central portions peaking around 7 in (180 mm).[91] The remnants of Rita had little impact in Tennessee, only consisting of moderate rainfall, peaking near 5 in (130 mm).[91] Up to 3 in (76 mm) of rain fell in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, most of Indiana, east and northern Ohio and southern Michigan before the storm merged with a frontal system on September 26.[91]

The weakened remnants of Hurricane Rita produced heavy rainfall and several tornadoes on September 24 in Arkansas.[100] Most of the state received at least 1 in (25 mm) of rain with maximum amounts around 5 in (130 mm).[91] Three F2 tornadoes touched down in the state, the first injured five people in Lonoke County,[112] the second was a low-end F2 tornado that completely destroyed a double-wide mobile home[113] the third was rated as a high-end F2 with winds near 155 mph (250 km/h), it destroyed three structures and severely damaged several others.[114] Throughout the state, winds gusted up to 50 mph (85 km/h),[115] leaving 2,976 residences without power.[88] Damage in Arkansas amounted to roughly $1 million.[115]

Aftermath[edit]

Resulting from heavy destruction on the Gulf Coast, the name Rita was retired in the spring of 2006, and will never be used again for an Atlantic hurricane. It was replaced by Rina for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season's list.[116]

Economic effects[edit]

Projected path of Hurricane Rita on September 22 highlighting refineries and oil rigs across southeast Texas and southern Louisiana.

The heavy concentration of oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico makes hurricanes of Rita's intensity very problematic. Currently, very little spare crude oil capacity exists in the United States, and the Gulf of Mexico produces some 2 million barrels (320,000 m3) per day total, as well as having some 30% of the total refining capacity of the United States. Rita's path traveled through a dense area of offshore pipelines and oil platforms, and on land to an area with large refineries. With over half of Gulf production still shut down in the wake of Katrina, some economists have stated that a worst-case scenario is for gasoline prices to briefly touch $5/US gallon ($1.30/L), which would be easily the highest real price for gasoline paid in the United States during the internal combustion era. However the oil industry escaped essentially unscathed from the storm, and post-storm predictions estimated only minor price rises. With some 200,000 jobless claims attributed to Katrina, Rita may have been a further drag on a weakened US economy.[citation needed]

The most pessimistic projections had GDP growth cut by 1% on an annualized basis in the United States in the second half of 2005, with as many as 500,000 people made unemployed. Some economists argued that the rebuilding effort could buoy the economy in 2006, while others argued that the energy spike could decrease consumer confidence by enough to send the economy into a full-fledged recession when combined with the Federal Reserve's recent increases in interest rates. While the above did happen, it did not occur until 2008, nearly three years after Rita's impact.[citation needed]

Due to the impending oil shortage and increasing gas prices, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared what he termed "snow days," closing all Georgia public primary and secondary schools on September 26 and 27 to conserve fuel for buses.[citation needed]

The combined effect of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was the destruction of an estimated 562 square kilometres (217 sq mi) of coastal wetlands in Louisiana.[117]

Military relief operations[edit]

Soldiers load hundreds of Meals, Ready-to-Eat and water onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at Ellington Field, Texas

On September 24, 2005, following the havoc caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the National Guard named Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt of the 41st Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, head of Joint Task Force Rita (formally called JTF Ponchartrain).[118] The 1,400 Oregonian soldiers and airmen, including the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry which is designated a quick response unit, are joined by engineers and military police from Louisiana, a Stryker brigade from Pennsylvania, and an engineering battalion from Missouri. It is their mission to provide relief support for all of the areas in Texas and Louisiana affected by the two storms and to remove obstructions that might otherwise hinder help to those affected.

American Red Cross operations[edit]

The American Red Cross continued to provide disaster relief to Hurricane Katrina affected areas, but as a result of Hurricane Rita, had to open additional shelters in other gulf states. The Red Cross also expanded their Hurricane Katrina internet "Safe List" for use by those affected by Hurricane Rita.

AmeriCorps relief operations[edit]

AmeriCorps sent several crews to Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana in response to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The crews originated from two main organizations, the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), as well as from smaller Americorps organizations such as Americorps St. Louis' Emergency Response Team (ERT). The crews performed a number of relief tasks for hurricane survivors, including support on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)/Carnival Cruise Lines shelter ship, tarping damaged roofs, and debris removal. As of the beginning of 2006, AmeriCorps teams have been involved in the rebuilding efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi. Teams have also operated volunteer camps like Camp Premier as well as assisted with the Made with Love cafe. As of May 2006, AmeriCorps reported that it would continue to send relief to affected areas.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]