Violent squalls and driving rain have battered the Florida Keys as tropical storm Rita was officially upgraded to a category one hurricane. All 80,000 residents of the region were ordered to evacuate, but many have stayed behind.
With empty streets and homes and shops boarded up, there were echoes of the situation in New Orleans ahead of the arrival of the Katrina hurricane which devastated the southern states three weeks ago. Key West resident Ed Cook: “I’m all ready for it. My food, my water and everything. My dog has her food and everything, we are all ready and we have our plans. You know, it’s not going to be much of a storm, though.” Local authorities have warned that Rita could prove a serious threat. Forecasters say the hurricane could dump 40 cm of rain on the low-lying island chain, with a possible surge of up to seven feet of seawater. Rita is heading northwest and is expected to reach the Texas Gulf coast later in the week. A Louisiana state official has warned that levees in the ruined city of New Orleans could fail again if the city were hit by a new storm surge.