Hurricane Rita, having battered the Florida keys, is gaining in intensity as it heads northwest, possibly for Texas. Upgraded to a category 3 storm, it’s poised to rise to category 4, the same classification as Hurricane Katrina which devastated the southern US states last month.
The low-lying Florida islands were spared the worst of the hurricane’s fury. Its core stayed far enough offshore to avoid causing serious damage and then headed towards Cuba. It’s likely to reach Texas by the end of the week. Louisiana, which bore the brunt of the havoc caused by Katrina, has declared a state of emergency ahead of Rita’s arrival. The recovery of oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico is also threatened. All 80,000 residents of the Florida Keys had been ordered to evacuate, but many stayed behind in boarded-up homes. The winds pushed seawater, sand and seaweed across the main highway linking the islands to the mainland. Cuba too avoided serious damage, although there was minor flooding in the northwest where tens of thousands of people were evacuated from coastal areas. And with fears mounting that the worst is yet to come, the country of Galveston in Texas is set to issue a compulsory evacuation order.