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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

The latest on Rita and Katrina

story.galveston.fire2.jpg
Three buildings burn in the historic Strand District of Galveston, Texas.

HURRICANE RITA

11 p.m. ET
Latitude: 33.0 North
Longitude: 93.9 West
Movement: North at 10 mph
Winds: 35 mph

SPECIAL REPORT

Check here for the latest information on Hurricane Rita and from the Katrina-stricken Gulf Coast region. Items are time-stamped when entered.

Rita weakens to a tropical depression

(CNN) -- Rita, which stormed ashore early Saturday as a Category 3 hurricane, was downgraded late in the night to a tropical depression, with sustained surface winds of 38 mph or less.

At 11 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said Rita's maximum sustained winds were near 35 mph.

Distillate leaks at natural gas hub following Hurricane Rita

ABBEVILLE, La. (CNN) -- A distillate used in processing natural gas was leaking Saturday night from a rupture at Henry Hub in Louisiana, which connects numerous natural gas pipelines in the region, but state officials said the incident posed no danger to residents.

Henry Hub is at the Sabine Pipe Line Henry Gas Processing Plant in Erath, La., part of Vermilion Parish. Vermilion was one of the three parishes worst hit by Hurricane Rita.

The officials said the chemical was leaking from a tank into a levee meant to contain such spills. The cause of the leak was being investigated. (Posted 10:15 p.m.)

Rita rains move northward

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Tropical Storm Rita was drifting north late Saturday at a steady speed, and forecasters expected the weakening storm to move eastward before stalling over the juncture of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas -- possibly dumping 15 inches of rain or more in some areas.

Up to 10 inches of rain was possible in New Orleans over the next 48 hours, as the city tries to recover from Hurricane Katrina, said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

About 18 tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service Saturday night. Ten were reported on the ground, with one fatality, Myers said.

At 8 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said Rita was near Shreveport, La., moving north at 11 mph. (Posted 9:20 p.m.)

Rupture reported at natural gas hub following Hurricane Rita

ABBEVILLE, La. (CNN) -- Authorities responded Saturday to a rupture at Henry Hub, which connects numerous natural gas pipelines running through the region, two government officials in the region said.

Henry Hub is at the Sabine Pipe Line Henry Gas Processing Plant in Erath, La., part of Vermilion Parish. Vermilion was one of the three parishes worst hit by Hurricane Rita.

Officials were trying to determine what caused the rupture. (Posted 8:44 p.m.)

Emergency official: Up to 1,000 people may need rescue in southwest Louisiana

ABBEVILLE, La. (CNN) -- A search-and-rescue mission was to resume Sunday morning south of Abbeville in Vermilion Parish, where Gov. Kathleen Blanco said many families were trapped after failing to heed mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Rita.

An emergency management official said earlier that as many as 1,000 people may need rescue because of rising floodwaters.

The governor said she was told by Gen. Robert LeBlanc, director of the Vermilion Parish Emergency Operations center, that 250 people were rescued Saturday.

The National Weather Service expected water to continue rising on Sunday. (Posted 8:42 p.m.)

Rita, Katrina knock out power to over 1 million customers; La. Gov. says two-thirds of state lost power

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 1.1 million customers in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are without electricity as a result of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Energy said Saturday.

In a situation report issued before 3 p.m. EDT, the department said the outages include "new customer outages due to Hurricane Rita as well as outages remaining from Hurricane Katrina.

"This number is expected to increase as more outages are reported in areas of Texas and Louisiana hit by Rita."

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, at a news conference, said 700,000 customers in Louisiana experienced power outages. She said power had gone out in 41 of the states 64 parishes -- representing about two-thirds of the state.

Entergy, which provides power to many in the region, said Saturday that Rita interrupted service to almost 611,000 customers in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.

"This is second only to Hurricane Katrina, which interrupted service to 1.1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi." (Posted 5:35 p.m.)

As many as 1,000 people need rescue in one southwestern Louisiana parish

In Abbeville, Mayor Mark Piazza said "a couple hundred" people have already been rescued. Several areas of Vermilion Parish were placed under 8 to 10 feet of water when Hurricane Rita pushed the Gulf of Mexico several miles inland.

"We're going through a door-to-door effort just like they did over in New Orleans," Piazza told CNN. "They're finding people on rooftops and in their houses that can't get out."

"There was a mandatory evacuation three days before the storm even got here for everyone south of Highway 14 in the parish," the mayor said. "Some people just refused to go. You know, I hate to see it happen, but maybe they learned a valuable lesson.

"This is probably some of the most severe flooding that we've had in this area in the past 40 or 50 years."

There are no levees protecting the parish, which is nearly all marshland.

"The Gulf of Mexico is about a mile south of Abbeville where it's normally eight miles south of Abbeville," Piazza said. "That tidal surge came in a good 6 to 7 miles."

Gen. Robert LeBlanc, director of Vermilion Parish Emergency Operations center, said the areas of concern are Erath, Delcambre, Boston, Intercoastal City and Pecan Island.

Local law enforcement, along with volunteers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the state fish and wildlife division, and neighboring parishes have been conducting boat and air rescue operations all day.

LeBlanc said they hoped to get all of the people out in two days, if the winds continue to die down.

One rescue boat was turner over by the strong gusts from Rita, and the rescuer was missing for over an hour before he was rescued himself, LeBlanc said.

Vermilion is one of Louisiana's three hardist hit parishes, along with Cameron and Calcasieu according to Louisiana National Guard spokesman Maj. Ed Bush.

The Louisiana National Guard is focusing on getting boats, trucks and high-water vehicles to all three parishes as part of the overall rescue effort, Bush said.

Vermilion parish's emergency operations center has been inundated with calls from people trapped in their homes and people trying to confirm their loved ones evacuated.

In the southern part of the parish, between Kaplan and Forked Island, CNN's Alex Quade reported Saturday afternoon that the storm surge forced a Fish and Wildlife Department staging area in Cow Island to move further inland. The department recruited boats from citizens, and help from hunters.

Parts of State Road 82 which parallels the Louisiana coast, are underwater. (Posted 5:04 p. m.)

Gov. Blanco requests $1 billion to coordinate benefits for hurricane victims

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said Saturday she is asking for $1 billion in federal funding for a "family liaison" program to coordinate aid for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"I want our people to know that I am creating a family recovery corps (which) will provide a cadre of Louisiana workers trained to know what benefits are available and how families can access those benefits," she said. The program would help "frustrated families move through the red tape."

Part of the $1 billion would fund training for those workers, which Blanco estimates between 400 and 500.

"There is so much family frustration right now, people are uncertain as to their futures," she said. "The people who've been in shelters for a month now are getting more frustrated and obviously we're compounding the situation now that more families will be displaced (by Rita)."

The program will also help employ Louisiana citizens, who are out of work as a result of the hurricanes.(Posted 5:00 p. m.)

Texans clog roads despite pleas not to return home

HOUSTON (CNN) -- People anxious to return home after evacuating for Hurricane Rita ignored pleas from top government officials to stay away Saturday and, in some cases, ended up in gridlock.

It was just what government officials repeatedly warned against, saying conditions may not be safe at home, emergency crews needed to be able to travel quickly along the highways, and trucks needed to bring fuel to re-fueling centers.

Still, the Texas Department of Transportation soon reported several traffic jams, including some along Interstate 10.

At a news conference Saturday morning in Austin, Gov. Rick Perry expressed relief that Houston and Galveston -- cities that were largely evacuated in advance of Rita's arrival -- "were spared the worst of the storm."

But he said, "I can't say in strong enough terms to those who evacuated the coastal region that they should not begin to return for the time being."

Houston Mayor Bill White issued the same warning about a dozen times during a later news conference in Houston. He said "water is rising in the bayous," officials were still assessing damage from the storm, and further weather could cause new problems.

"It is dangerous," he said. "But most important, people need to hold back so those emergency supply providers can get in."

Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw said officials were working on a plan to organize return to the evacuated areas. A plan was expected to be announced Saturday afternoon. It was not known when the plan would call for returns to begin.

In a written statement earlier, Perry said any evacuees who try to return to Jefferson County, Orange County, or the city of Beaumont would be turned back. (Posted 4:17 p. m.)

One oil refinery reports 'significant damage' following Hurricane Rita

(CNN) -- Valero Energy reported Saturday that its recovery teams found "significant damage" to its oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas following Hurricane Rita. (Posted 3:53 p. m.)

Sheriff responding to reports of an apartment building collapse

(CNN) -- The Jefferson County Sheriff's department Saturday responded to reports that an apartment building may have collapsed near Beaumont, Texas, a desk sergeant told CNN.

The department said all residents were able to get out of the building unharmed.

There was structural damage and water damage, but everyone was evacuated safely, authorities said.

The Country Village Apartments are about 9 miles southwest of Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana border where Hurricane Rita made landfall overnight. (Posted 3:26 p. m.)

Lake Charles, La. residents asked to stay away; city under dusk-to-dawn curfew

LAKE CHARLES, La. (CNN) -- Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach Saturday is asking residents not to return for two days, and will implement a dusk-to-dawn curfew (7 p.m.-6 a.m.) for those who stayed behind in this Louisiana city hit hard by Hurricane Rita.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who is in charge of the military response to hurricane relief, is expected to arrive in the city later in the day to assess the damage and help civilian officials with relief efforts.

Honore briefed President Bush on the situation in Louisiana and said he was concerned about significant tidal surges in Lake Charles that may hit later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The city, which lies on the banks of Lake Charles and the Calcasieu River and is located just 30 miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, was under mandatory evacuation orders.

As Rita made its way northward, losing strength along the way, the winds were still strong on the banks of Lake Charles, where dozens of boats were tossed free from their moorings and completely destroyed.

The Interstate 10 overpass that crosses over the lake was shut down. High winds forced an 18-wheeler to jackknife Friday night as Hurricane Rita approached landfall.

The water levels continue to rise and could cause flooding well after Rita makes its way out of Louisiana. Low-lying areas of the city were flooded, as expected, as well as several casinos along the river. If the waters rise high enough, the lake waters will pour into city's downtown. (Posted 3:19 p. m.)

Dept. of Energy: Rita, Katrina knock out power to over 1 million customers in Gulf states; number expected to rise

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 1.1 million customers in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are without electricity as a result of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Energy said Saturday.

In a situation report issued before 3 p.m. EDT, the department said the outages include "new customer outages due to Hurricane Rita as well as outages remaining from Hurricane Katrina.

"This number is expected to increase as more outages are reported in areas of Texas and Louisiana hit by Rita." (Posted 3:08 p. m.)

Paulison: Rita 'not as severe as we expected'; no deaths reported

(CNN) -- The damage caused by Hurricane Rita -- now a tropical storm -- "is not as severe as we expected," David Paulison, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Saturday.

He said the evacuations worked, and there are no reported deaths. (Posted 2:43 p. m.)

Search and rescue teams warned of heat, snakes, bugs, rabid animals

HOUSTON (CNN) -- Federal search and rescue teams poised to go to areas struck by Hurricane Rita were not being used by early afternoon Saturday, but waiting in Houston to be dispatched.

At a morning briefing, they were told there were no immediate reports of emergencies requiring their involvement.

FEMA officials briefing the crews warned them that when they are sent out, the heat will be their "biggest nemesis," so they should "pre-hydrate."

The teams were also warned of possible venomous snakes, bugs, and rabid wild animals.

The teams were told that a few highways -- 10, 93, and 73 -- were open for emergency vehicles, and that there would be refueling centers available as they travel eastward.

The teams were told they may travel by helicopter or even by boat. (Posted 2:28 p. m.)

Latest numbers on Hurricane Rita

(CNN) -- Here are the latest numbers as reported by the National Hurricane Center at 2 p.m. EDT:

Top Wind Speed: -- near 65 mph, with higher gusts. Weakening is expected to continue over the next 24 hours.

Location of storm center: -- Between Shreveport, La. and Lufkin, Texas.

Movement: -- Toward the north at near 12 mph and this motion is expected to continue over the next 24 hours.

Watches and Warnings: -- Tropical storm warning issued from High Island, Texas (south of Houston) to Morgan City, La. -- Isolated tornadoes possible through Saturday night in portions of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Tornado warnings already posted in Louisiana.

Size of storm: -- Tropical storm-force winds extend up to 140 miles.

Storm surge and rainfall: -- The coastal storm flooding should begin to slowly subside today. However, tides along the southeast Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in areas affected by Katrina could be 4 to 6 feet above normal and be accompanied by large waves. (Posted 2:03 p. m.)

Rita downgraded to a tropical storm

(CNN) -- Rita has been downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center's 2 p.m. ET advisory (Posted 1:54 p. m.)

Texas Gov.: Houston and Galveston 'spared the worst,' but don't come home

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Although Houston and Galveston "were spared the worst" of Hurricane Rita, Gov. Rick Perry Saturday called on Texans who fled those cities to stay away.

"I can't say in strong enough terms to those who evacuated the coastal region that they should not begin to return for the time being," Perry said.

"We are not through assessing the damage. We cannot assure you at this time that your community is safe to return to."

He said he was also concerned the region not see a repeat of the gridlock that turned highways into parking lots as people were trying to flee the storm.

Officials "need time to restock fuel supplies along the return routes and to restock goods in stores. We also want to avoid any traffic gridlock," he said.

Crews and transportation officials are traveling to various areas to help clean up debris and make the roads safe, so the state cannot organize contra-flow, which would allow all road lanes to head back into the cities, he said.

In a written statement earlier, Perry said any evacuees who try to return to Jefferson County, Orange County, or the city of Beaumont would be turned back.

At the news conference, he expressed relief that Hurricane Rita did not bring the kind damage and destruction that many had feared. But he also cautioned people in affected areas to stay indoors.

"It appears that Houston and Galveston were spared the worst. But I want to re-emphasize to Texans currently in that area to remain in their homes, remain in their places of safety. There are still concerns over flooding, over fallen trees, debris, all of which pose a danger.

"So people should remain in their safe locations and listen to their local officials." (Posted 1:01 p. m.)

Louisiana officials say no reports of casualties from Rita

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Louisiana government officials said on Saturday that there have been no reports of casualties from Hurricane Rita, but there are widespread power outages.

"We're fighting two fronts here now, we're fighting the front still in New Orleans from hurricane Katrina and also from Rita now. And we are moving southwest with forces to fight in the southwest part of the state," said Lt. Col Peter Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard. (Posted 12:41 p.m.)

Doctor: Triage set up at Beaumont Civic Center; 11 injuries reported

From CNN Producer Debra Goldschmidt: BEAUMONT, Texas (CNN) -- Doctors and emergency workers Saturday set up a triage center at the Beaumont Civic Center, where 11 people injured by Hurricane Rita and 130 patients from a flooded hospital will be treated, Dr. James Holly told CNN. Holly said he did not know the extent of the 11 injuries, and said the number might rise.

Heavy rains and storm surge from Hurricane Rita flooded Beaumont's Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital and those patients will be brought to the staging area at the civic center.

Holly said he was able to drive around the streets of Beaumont, located near the Texas-Louisiana border where Rita made landfall early Saturday, and reported a lot of tree damage but not a lot of structural damage. He saw three fires he believed were caused by natural gas lines in private homes. Roads are blocked by debris and downed trees, making it difficult to get around. (Posted 12:15 p.m.)

Gapinski: 8-feet of water in parts of New Orleans' 9th Ward; pump station 'out of commission'

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Parts of New Orleans' 9th Ward Saturday are under 8 feet of water after Hurricane Rita dumped heavy rains as it made landfall overnight, according to Col. Duane Gapinski of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"It's pretty deep, there are houses where just the roof is exposed," Gapinski told CNN.

Hurricane Katrina caused breaches in the Industrial Canal levee protecting the neighborhood, and an 8-foot storm surge Friday started the waters to overflow the breaches, hours before Rita made landfall.

Gapinski flew over the neighborhood and reported a 150-foot gap in the southern breach of the levee, near the Lower 9th Ward.

"(It was) certainly was deja vu all over again but, again, we have to deal with the situation," he said. "We have to plan and going to get to work today."

Waters on the West Bank of the Industrial Canal are about a foot deep and should be pumped out quickly, Gapinski said.

But a pump station in the Lower 9th Ward is "out of commission" and will take awhile to fix, Gapinski said. (Posted 11:55 a.m.)

Officials 'in planning stages' for return of evacuees

From National Correspondent Bob Franken HOUSTON (CNN) -- State and local officials are "in the planning stages" for the return of the hundreds of thousands of evacuees whose departures in advance of Hurricane Rita caused such paralysis and chaos.

While, the authorities say they have no plans to block anyone who simply wants to return, they're urging people to stay away until power outages and similar problems are under control.

"Anyone who does come back", said one high ranking planner, "should make sure he has a full tank of gas."

Gasoline is one of the considerations as the planners prepare. Before a mass incoming exodus, they want to make sure petroleum supplies are plentiful enough.

They are also considering some sort of "staggered return" and a so-called "contra flow" program that takes highway lanes used for traffic in the opposite direction and makes them available for the large flow. That approach was used with mixed success during the outgoing evacuation.

The first consideration, say officials, is returning emergency people, "particularly doctors and nurses.

In the meantime, they'll try and delay any mass traffic in right away, by ordering schools not to open till later in the week, and ask businesses to do the same. (Posted 11:43 p.m.)

Latest numbers on Hurricane Rita

(CNN) -- Here are the latest numbers as reported by the National Hurricane Center at 11 a.m. EDT:

Top wind speed: -- near 75 mph, with higher gusts. Gradual weakening is expected now that Rita has made landfall.

Saffir-Simpson scale status: --Category 1 (winds 74 mph -95 mph)

Location of storm center: -- Near Jasper, Texas.

Movement: -- Toward the north at near 12 mph. Rita's forward motion should slow down over the next 24 hours, moving the center further inland over southeastern Texas on Saturday.

Watches and Warnings: -- Tropical storm warning issued from High Island, Texas (south of Houston) to the mouth of the Pearl River. An earlier hurricane warning for from High Island, Texas to Morgan City, La. was canceled. -- Isolated tornadoes possible through Saturday night in portions of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Tornado warnings already posted in Louisiana.

Size of storm: -- Hurricane-force winds extend up to 35 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 120 miles.

Storm surge and rainfall: -- The coastal storm flooding should begin to slowly subside today. However, tides along the southeast Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in areas affected by Katrina could be 4 to 6 feet above normal and be accompanied by large waves. -- Rita is expected to slow down during the next few days. Rainfall totals of 10-15 inches are expected over eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Maximum rainfall totals in excess of 25 inches could occur over localized areas. Rainfall amounts of 3-5 inches with isolated heavier totals are possible over southeastern Louisiana, including metropolitan New Orleans. (Posted 11:05 a.m.)

Fire shuts down Baytown's water plant

From Correspondent Randi Kaye: BAYTOWN, Texas (CNN) -- The water treatment plant in Baytown, Texas, was damaged by a fire Saturday morning, cutting the drinking water supply to the city of 86,000 residents, according to Baytown City Manager Gary Jackson.

The fire started as workers started an emergency power generator after a power outage at about 4 a.m., Jackson said. Although the city has four million gallons of water on reserve, that supply will be held back for firefighting needs, he said.

Baytown, located along the Houston shipping channel, is home to many oil refineries and chemical plants, including the largest refinery in the United States. (Posted 10:23 a.m.)

Texarkana, eyeing Rita, battens down the hatches

(CNN) -- Texarkana -- the city that straddles Arkansas and Texas just north of Louisiana -- is getting ready for the wrath of Hurricane Rita, which is bringing high winds, floodwaters, and profound misery to everyone in its path.

Weather forecasts indicate that the storm could stall over the border city and the region could get three to five days of heavy rain, bringing as much as one to two feet of water.

David Hall, the city's director of emergency management, said city officials are aware of that possibility. Public works people are cleaning drainage ditches and dredging creeks and have amassed around 2,000 sandbags, Hall said. Officials have brought in extra fuel for vehicles and power tools, he said, and workers are keeping an eye on flood-prone areas of the city -- which has a population of around 60,000 in a region of about 200,000.

Hall said the city already has accommodated many people fleeing Hurricane Katrina in shelters and in hotels and motels. Now, people running from Rita have landed in the metropolis, with more than 1,250 in shelters.

"Between Texarkana and Little Rock, there's not a motel or hotel room to be found," Hall said. People are heading north as well on Highway 59 in Texas. Cars are breaking down on the highway and, Hall said, "good Samaritans" are picking up people and taking them to safety. Hall said the city's "main concern" is how two or three old buildings downtown will weather the wind gusts and the sustained winds. (Posted 10:12 a.m.)

Texas gov. emergency office: Evacuees shouldn't return now to Beaumont, two counties

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Gov. Rick Perry's emergency management division said on Saturday that officials in Jefferson and Orange counties and the city of Beaumont say evacuees "should not attempt to return at this time."

"It is not safe to go back to these areas. Emergency workers are currently attempting to assess damages and to eliminate dangerous hazards.

"Residents should delay their returns to Jefferson and Orange counties and to the city of Beaumont until the news media report that local officials announce it is safe to return. Evacuees who attempt to enter disaster areas will be turned back." (Posted: 9:52 a.m.)

Oil refineries, chemical plants along Houston ship channel report no significant damage

BAYTOWN, Texas (CNN) -- The largest oil refinery in the United States and about 200 other refineries and chemical plants located along the channel connecting the port of Houston and the Gulf of Mexico weathered Hurricane Rita without major damage, according to an official who monitors the region.

Fuel prices have risen in recent days amid concerns about potential damage to these industrial facilities.

Ed Hawthorne with CIMA -- the Channel Industries Mutual Aid group -- told CNN Saturday morning that there have been no reports of significant damage to the facilities.

The Exxon-Mobile refinery, the largest in the United States, is located in Baytown and was undamaged, he said.

The plants and refineries shut down in advance of the storm and it is expected to take about a week for them to reopen, Hawthorne said.

--CNN correspondent Randi Kaye in Baytown, Texas contributed to this report. (Posted: 9:46 a.m.)

Houston sighs with relief as Rita passes

HOUSTON (CNN) -- With Hurricane Rita's eye passing well to the east, Houston escaped the major flooding that was feared earlier in the week when mandatory evacuations were ordered, according to local officials.

"We have come out reasonably well," Harris County Judge Robert Eckels told CNN.

Houston Mayor Bill White said there are tree branches down and some power outages, but no major flooding in his city.

Calls to 911 were far lower than during a normal night, Mayor White said.

Houston police made 16 arrests for burglary overnight, including five people caught carrying merchandise out of a Target store, White said.

Calls to the fire department were up, mostly because of fire alarms tripped by electrical problems, he said.

There was a two-alarm fire overnight, but it has not been determined if it was related to the storm, White said. (Posted: 8:58 a.m.)

Latest numbers on Hurricane Rita

(CNN) -- Here are the latest numbers as reported by the National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. EDT:

Top wind speed: -- near 100 mph, with higher gusts. Gradual weakening is expected now that Rita has made landfall.

Saffir-Simpson scale status: --Category 2 (winds 96 mph -110 mph)

Location of storm center: -- Midway between Jasper and Beaumont, Texas.

Movement: -- Northwest at near 12 mph. Rita is expected to make a gradual turn toward the north and forward motion should slow down over the next 24 hours, moving the center further inland over southeastern Texas on Saturday.

Watches and Warnings: -- Hurricane warning in effect from High Island, Texas (south of Houston) to Morgan City, La. An earlier warning west of High Island, Texas was canceled. -- Tropical storm warning issued for southeastern coast of Louisiana east of Morgan City to the mouth of the Pearl River, including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, and from south of Sargent, Texas, to Port O'Connor, Texas. An earlier warning from Port O'Connor to Port Aransas was canceled. -- Isolated tornadoes possible through Saturday night in portions of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Tornado warnings already posted in Louisiana.

Size of storm: -- Hurricane-force winds extend up to 85 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 205 miles. Hurricane-force winds are expected to spread inland as far as 100 miles near the path of Rita. A wind gust of 85 mph was reported recently in Jasper, Texas.

Storm surge: -- Coastal storm surge flooding of 15 feet above normal tide levels, possibly up to 20 feet at head of bays and nearby rivers, along with dangerous, battering waves near and to the east of where Rita makes landfall. The National Hurricane Center says the storm surge will not recede until the winds abate later Saturday. -- Tides are currently running about 2 feet above normal along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Tides in those areas will increase 4 to 6 feet, and be accompanied by large waves. -- "Large swells generated by Rita will likely affect most portions of the Gulf Coast."

Rainfall: -- Rita is expected to slow down during the next few days. Rainfall totals of 10-15 inches are expected over eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Maximum rainfall totals in excess of 25 inches could occur over localized areas. Rainfall amounts of 3-5 inches with isolated heavier totals are possible over southeastern Louisiana, including metropolitan New Orleans. (Posted: 8:25 a.m.)

Rita moves ashore just east of Texas-Louisiana line

CAMERON PARISH, La.. (CNN) -- Hurricane Rita roared ashore early Saturday near the Texas-Louisiana border, lashing the entire Gulf coast region with strong winds and heavy rain as its storm surge caused renewed flooding in Katrina-battered New Orleans.

The storm was downgraded by National Hurricane Center to a Category 2 storm shortly before 8:00 a.m. EDT, as the eye moved over Lake Charles, La.

The NHC said the storm made landfall at 2:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. EDT) at Cameron Parish, on the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana between Sabine Pass and Johnson's Bayou.

Cameron Parish, as a flat marshy area stretching along the coast eastward from the Texas state line, "is going to be a big catastrophic mess," said Cameron Parish Deputy Sheriff Ron Johnson. "I don't believe we're going to have much left there," said Johnson, who was riding out the storm with the rest of the parish officials in Lake Charles. He said all but a few of the 10,000 residents of the parish evacuated.

Damage from the storm was already reported in several locations, particularly Lake Charles, La. In the city, "we're seeing some serious destruction being caused" by high winds, CNN's Rick Sanchez reported. He described large pieces of glass ripped from buildings and sent flying through the air, and large trees overturned.

By the time Rita made landfall, Lake Charles had received more than 8 inches of rain, according to radar estimates.

"We've got a lot of damage," said Sgt. Joey Fontenot of the sheriff's office in Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles. "We're unable to get out of our building."

Lake Charles police said they had received reports of severe damage to a terminal at the Lake Charles airport, and also a report of an Interstate 10 overpass collapse, but were unable to check them out because of unsafe conditions outside. (Posted 8:14 a.m.)

Aircraft takes readings as Rita makes landfall

MARIETTA, Ga. (CNN) -- As Hurricane Rita approached shore near the Texas-Louisiana state line early Saturday, an Air Force "hurricane hunter" aircraft recorded readings from its eyewall -- and was able to grant a request from President Bush.

"We passed through the eyewall about three times," said CNN Producer Rob Howell, who was on board the flight with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. "We were able to take a reading each time."

The storm weakened slightly and sped up as it approached land, Howell said. Flying into the storm, "there was turbulence, but we were able to hold on to our seats."

Through the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, President Bush had requested the last readings taken from Rita before it made landfall and just afterward, Howell said. Since the aircraft was the last to pass through Rita's eyewall before it roared ashore, the unit made another pass, "so they could get a reading 3 miles off land and 3 miles on land."

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is known as the Hurricane Hunters of the Air Force Reserve, according to the unit's Web site. The unit is typically based out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., but relocated to Dobbins Air Force Base outside of Atlanta because of Hurricane Katrina, Howell said. (Posted 6:54 a.m.)

Lake Charles experiencing 'a lot of damage'

LAKE CHARLES, La. (CNN) -- As Category-3 Hurricane Rita battered the Louisiana coast early Saturday, reports of damage were almost immediate in Lake Charles, La., a city of about 72,000 people about 50 miles northeast of the Sabine Pass, on the border of Texas and Louisiana, where the storm made landfall.

"What we're experiencing now is what people were afraid of," said CNN's Jason Carroll in Lake Charles' Christus Hospital, describing the conditions as "very intense. The debris flying in every direction, we've seen transformers blow, we've seen trees toppling over."

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, at the same hospital, said "the wind was just clawing at the window, trying to get in."

Gupta reported the hospital sustained little to no damage, and about eight patients who were too ill to be moved were being well taken care of.

As the storm moved in, "the weather is deteriorating quickly," said Sgt. Joey Fontenot of the sheriff's office in Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles. "We've got a lot of damage. We're unable to get out of our building."

Lake Charles police said they had received reports of severe damage to a terminal at the Lake Charles airport, and also the possible collapse of an freeway overpass on I-10, but authorities were unable to check out those reports because of unsafe conditions outside.

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso estimated, about an hour after the storm made landfall, the city was experiencing sustained winds of about 100 mph. "There's so much flying debris ... a lot of tin falling, power lines, trees and limbs and things."

The Lake Charles police chief and the sheriff of neighboring Cameron Parish were among those "hunkered down with us," Mancuso told CNN, adding that parish "I'm sure, is devastated."

He said he had spoken to police in Vinton, a town to the west, and "they felt like they were fixing to lose the roof on their police department. They're going to the jail part right now."

He estimated that up to 95 percent of parish residents had evacuated, but said police have received some 911 calls from "people saying they want to get out." He noted he was worried about residents of the western part of the parish, which borders the Sabine River."

Fontenot said authorities had received some reports of looting. In Moss Bluff, a Lake Charles suburb, people reportedly went into houses to loot, he said. Police had arrested two people in connection with looting at a casino, he said.

Although a portion of the office roof was leaking, Mancuso said he and others feel "pretty safe. I'm concerned about my community, obviously." He said he was worried officers would find extensive damage when they venture outside.

CNN's Rick Sanchez, in Lake Charles, said he had seen "considerable structural damage," including large trees uprooted and thrown across roadways. He also described large pieces of glass ripped from buildings and sent flying through the air. (Updated 6:35 a.m.)

Rita moves ashore on Texas-Louisiana line

SABINE PASS, Texas (CNN) -- Hurricane Rita roared ashore early Saturday near the Texas-Louisiana border, lashing the entire Gulf coast region with strong winds and heavy rain as its storm surge caused renewed flooding in Katrina-battered New Orleans.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm made landfall at 2:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. EDT) on the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana between Sabine Pass and Johnson's Bayou.

When it made landfall, Rita was moving northwest at about 12 mph.

Damage from the storm was already reported in several locations, including Galveston, Texas, and Lake Charles, La.

In Lake Charles, "we're seeing some serious destruction being caused" by high winds, CNN's Rick Sanchez reported. He described large pieces of glass ripped from buildings and sent flying through the air, and large trees overturned. By the time Rita made landfall, Lake Charles had received more than 8 inches of rain, according to radar estimates.

"We've got a lot of damage," said Sgt. Joey Fontenot of the sheriff's office in Calcasieu Parish, which includes Lake Charles. "We're unable to get out of our building."

As of 5 a.m., the hurricane center said the storm was near Port Arthur, Texas.

Concern remained about Rita's storm surge, which was forecasted to be up to 20 feet in some areas.

"Just because the center is onshore, people shouldn't think that that water's not still rising," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. "Is is, especially on the east side of the eye."

The water will not subside until Rita's winds die down, which is not expected before Saturday afternoon, he said, adding, "we almost always have loss of life well after landfall." (Posted 5:35 a.m.)

Latest numbers on Hurricane Rita as of 5:00 a.m. EDT:

(CNN) -- Here are the latest numbers as reported by the National Hurricane Center at 5 a.m. EDT:

Top wind speed: -- near 120 mph, with higher gusts. Gradual weakening is expected now that Rita has made landfall.

Saffir-Simpson scale status: --Category 3 (winds 111-130 mph)

Location of storm center: -- Near Port Arthur, Texas.

Movement: -- Northwest at near 12 mph. Rita is expected to move further inland over southeastern Texas on Saturday.

Watches and Warnings: -- Hurricane warning in effect from Sargent, Texas (south of Houston) to Morgan City, La. -- Tropical storm warning issued for southeastern coast of Louisiana east of Morgan City to the mouth of the Pearl River, including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, and from south of Sargent, Texas, to Port O'Connor, Texas. An earlier warning from Port O'Connor to Port Aransas was canceled. -- Isolated tornadoes possible through Saturday night in portions of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Tornado warnings already posted in Louisiana.

Size of storm: -- Hurricane-force winds extend up to 85 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 205 miles. Hurricane-force winds are expected to spread inland as far as 100 miles near the path of Rita. Sustained winds of 91 mph were reported at Port Arthur, Texas, with a gust to 116 mph.

Storm surge: -- Coastal storm surge flooding of 15 feet above normal tide levels, possibly up to 20 feet at head of bays and nearby rivers, along with dangerous, battering waves near and to the east of where Rita makes landfall. The National Hurricane Center says the storm surge will not recede until the winds abate later Saturday. -- Tides are currently running about 2 feet above normal along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Tides in those areas will increase 4 to 6 feet, and be accompanied by large waves. -- "Large swells generated by Rita will likely affect most portions of the Gulf Coast."

Rainfall: -- Rita is expected to slow down during the next few days. Rainfall totals of 10-15 inches are expected over eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Maximum rainfall totals in excess of 25 inches could occur over localized areas. Rainfall amounts of 3-5 inches with isolated heavier totals are possible over southeastern Louisiana, including metropolitan New Orleans. (Posted 5:20 a.m.)

Hurrican Rita has made landfall.

SABINE PASS, La. (CNN) -- With howling winds and driving rain, Hurricane Rita has made landfall along the Gulf Coast, just east of Sabine Pass, on the border between Texas and Louisiana. The center of the storm's eye crossed the coast at 3:40am, EDT. (Posted 3:43 a.m.)

Rita close to landfall along Texas-Louisiana line

GALVESTON, Texas (CNN) -- Hurricane Rita, packing winds of 120 mph, prepared to make landfall near the Texas-Louisiana state line early Saturday, lashing the entire coastal region with strong winds and heavy rains as its storm surge caused renewed flooding in Katrina-soaked New Orleans.

The northern eyewall of the Category 3 storm had moved onshore as of about 3 a.m. EDT Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm's center was located about 10 miles south-southeast of Sabine Pass, along the state line. It was moving northwest at about 12 mph. A storm is not considered to have made landfall until the center of its eye is onshore.

Rita has weakened in intensity from its peak Category 5 status, when the massive storm had maximum sustained winds of 165 mph as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico. But forecasters and officials warned residents to continue to take the storm seriously. (Posted 3:17 a.m.)

Winds fan flames in Galveston; restaurant wall collapses

GALVESTON, Texas (CNN) -- Winds of up to 70 mph hindered firefighters' efforts to battle flames in downtown Galveston as Hurricane Rita approached land, creating a blizzard of ash and embers along with heavy smoke.

Fire engulfed two historic homes and a commercial building. One of the buildings was destroyed. It was unclear whether anyone was inside, as about 90 percent of Galveston has evacuated because of Rita.

In addition, a restaurant wall collapsed about four blocks from the fire, and winds blew off sections of the roof of a multi-story downtown hotel. (Posted 2:02 a.m.)

Coast Guard rescues pregnant woman, child

(CNN) -- A woman, eight months pregnant, and her 4-year-old son were rescued Friday from their damaged Port Fourchon, La., home as Hurricane Rita approached.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it was their first Rita-related rescue. An air crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans lowered a rescue swimmer from a helicopter and hoisted the mother and son to safety.

In Dulac, La., an Army National Guard ground unit rescued a family after they were spotted by a Coast Guard air crew. (Posted 12:47 a.m.)

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