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Home >> World
UPDATED: 14:23, September 23, 2005
Rita sparks mass exodus, Bush urges preparedness
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Cars queued bumper-to-bumper on the roads of Houston and Galveston in Texas on Wednesday (local time) to escape looming Hurricane Rita, and for many thousands of evacuees it was the second time in barely three weeks that they have sought a safe haven.

Galveston, a city of 57,000 on a barrier island, started moving the elderly and infirm in ambulances and buses. In 1900, a hurricane hit the city, killing between 8,000 and 12,000 people in the deadliest storm in US history.

Ambulances fought through the traffic with sirens blaring, families packed everything they could into cars, and dozens of school buses ferried those lacking their own means of transport.

The streets of the port city were virtually deserted and most petrol stations, stores and restaurants shut down.

More than 1 million people are affected by the evacuation order along the Texas coast, which also includes lower-lying parts of Houston and Corpus Christi.

US authorities are taking no chances this time after the withering criticism over their flawed response to Katrina, for which the confirmed death toll has now passed 1,000.

When can they settle down?

Katrina forced Alicia Baxter and her family into the Superdome stadium in New Orleans, then the Astrodome in Houston, and they had arrived in Galveston last week.

"I'm about to go kill myself," she said as relatives packed up behind her. "This is unbelievable."

Several thousand people in emergency shelters in Houston were also told to leave again.

About 1,000 Katrina refugees pushed their possessions, many in shopping carts, from Houston stadiums and other shelters. Some were given one-way plane or bus tickets to Arkansas, where more shelters have been set up.

About 976 people were still living at the Houston Astrodome on Tuesday. But officials told them: "Everyone must go."

The George R. Brown Convention Centre was also cleared of the 147 men, women and children living there.

"It's a mess, it's a big mess," said Kim Paul, 45. "It's like something from a nightmare. I got no place to stay, my grandbaby needs to go to school, and I don't have transportation. I feel like a gypsy."

Rita has turned into a maximum strength category five storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, and officials said the sports stadium and convention centre might not withstand such a storm. Other shelters have been opened but many of the New Orleans refugees chose to get out of town.

At the peak of the post-Katrina chaos, there were 27,000 people living in Houston's Astrodome and convention centre.

"Everybody here's got major problems," said New Orleans resident Lamark Pierre, 31, as he sat dejectedly on the pavement, his face buried in his hands.

Leroy Pratt, who has spent three weeks in the Astrodome, said he was leaving as he had nowhere else to go.

Pratt said a debit card with US$2,000 and another for US$360 from the Red Cross had been stolen. He said he had also lost contact with his family. "They said I could get on the bus, so I'm going," said the 55-year-old.

About 2,700 Katrina survivors in southern Louisiana shelters were moved on Wednesday to new locations north, said emergency preparedness spokesman Mark Smith. Another 5,000 would be evacuated Thursday (local time), he said.

Bush urges preparedness

Eager to avoid the public pounding he got for his response to Hurricane Katrina, US President George W. Bush pledged late on Wednesday to be "ready for the worst" as another big hurricane headed for the Gulf Coast.

Across the federal government, officials were advertising the Bush administration's stepped-up response plans for Hurricane Rita as it swept across the Gulf of Mexico towards the Texas coastline.

Bush pleaded with people in the region to comply with mandatory evacuation orders issued in New Orleans and Galveston, Texas. And he said that federal, state and local governments are in close co-ordination on the preparation.

"I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities and follow them, " Bush said in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. "We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm but we got to be ready for the worst. "

R. David Paulison, the newly appointed director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington that "we know that there is going to be a period of time before help gets to you. "

"So you need to make sure you have your family's plan in place, your evacuation plans in place. Make sure you have food, water, medicine, all the things you need to survive for a couple of days on your own. "

Appearing on CBS television's "The Early Show," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared: "Ever since Katrina we've been reloading our resources. " He said federal officials are working very closely with their counterparts in Texas.

In an interview on ABC television's "Good Morning America, " Chertoff said: "The lesson is that when the storm hits, the best place to be is to be out of the path. There's plenty of (advance) notice about Rita. "

Source: China Daily

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