Residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts began clearing away debris Sunday as power crews worked to restore electricity to more than 1 million residents in four states after Hurricane Rita tore through the US Gulf Coast, causing less damage than feared.
People breathed a sigh of relief that the devastation caused by the once-dreaded storm was less severe than that caused by Hurricane Katrina. But Texas Governor Rick Perry, speaking before he took a helicopter tour of the Beaumont area Sunday, urged evacuees stay where they are until local officials say it's all right to return.
The storm slammed into lightly populated swamplands at the Texas and Louisiana border, sparing Houston, the fourth-largest US city, but battering the oil city of Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, a gambling and chemicals centre.
Rita downed trees, sparked fires across the hurricane zone and swamped Louisiana shoreline towns with a 4.6-metre storm surge that required daring boat and helicopter rescues of hundreds of people.
By contrast to Katrina, with its death toll of more than 1,000, only one death had been reported by Saturday night. One person was killed in Mississippi when a tornado spawned by the hurricane overturned a mobile home.
"The damage is not as serious as we had expected it to be," said R. David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "The evacuations worked."
Damage to the vital concentration of oil refineries along the coast appeared relatively light, although industry officials said it was too early to assess whether there would be an impact on oil prices.
Rita caused an estimated US$2.5 -5 billion in insured losses in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, catastrophe risk modeller AIR Worldwide said on Saturday, far less than was feared due to Rita losing steam before striking land.
Rita roared ashore at 3:30 am EDT close to the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 93 kilometres per hour and warnings of up to 64 centimetres of rain. By evening, it was downgraded to a tropical depression with top sustained winds of 56 kilometres per hour as it moved slowly through east Texas.
Some of the worst flooding occurred along the Louisiana coast, where floodwaters were 2.74 metres deep near the town of Abbeville. In Cameron Parish, sheriff's deputies watched appliances and what appeared to be parts of homes swirling in the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.
New Orleans, devastated by Katrina barely three weeks ago, endured a second straight day of new flooding that could seriously disrupt recovery plans.
President George W. Bush, mindful of criticism the federal government was slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago, visited the Texas emergency operations centre in Austin on Saturday.
"Even though the storm has passed the coastline, the situation is still dangerous because of potential flooding," he said. "People who are safe now ought to remain in safe conditions."
Source: China Daily