The latest on Rita and Katrina
Katrina evacuees wait for a bus to take them from Reliant Arena in Houston as Rita approaches.
KATRINA'S DEATH TOLL
Check here for the latest information on Hurricane Rita and from the Katrina-stricken Gulf Coast region. Items are time-stamped when entered.
NHC: Rita intensifies to a Category 3 storm, Category 4 expected later in the day
KEY LARGO, Fla. (CNN) -- Hurricane Rita intensified early Wednesday as it moved into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, becoming a Category 3 storm and the fifth major hurricane of the 2005 season.
National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasters predict that Rita will strengthen to a Category 4 by later in the day -- the same strength as deadly Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall Aug. 29, devastating New Orleans and nearby Gulf Coast cities.
A Category 4 storm, with top sustained winds of 131 to 155 mph, can cause extreme damage, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale measuring hurricane strength.
Carter lambastes Bush for failing to maintain FEMA
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter Tuesday accused the Bush administration of failing to maintain the standards at the agency he created in 1979, a failure the Democrat said led to the disaster that befell New Orleans after it was struck by Hurricane Katrina.
Carter, who served as president from 1977-1981, said he made three promises when he created the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the request of the nation's governors, who had asked him to put under one umbrella the 16 agencies they were accustomed to dealing with after disasters.
The promises were that the agency's "leaders would always be highly qualified;" the agency would "always be an independent agency;" and it would "always be adequately financed."
"All three of those promises have been violated," the 80-year-old former governor of Georgia told a packed hall at his presidential library in Atlanta.
Corps: New Orleans 'essentially dry'
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The Army Corps of Engineers has pumped as much water from New Orleans as possible and the water that flooded the city from Hurricane Katrina "is essentially out," a spokesman for the Corps told CNN Tuesday night.
"The city is, well it's not dry, but all the surface water is gone," said Army Col. Duane Gapinski. "And recovery can begin in earnest. There's no impediments to traveling."
Mitch Frazier, a spokesman for Gapinski, said later, "The city of New Orleans is essentially dry. We (Corps) are declaring victory."
Frazier said some outlying areas still have water, and there is localized ponding and pooling, but there are no mechanical means to get the city any drier.
However, with Rita churning toward the Gulf of Mexico, officials have said that three inches of rain in New Orleans could cause breaches to patched levees and result in 2 to 4 feet of flooding in the city. (Posted 10:01 p.m.)
Corps: It will take years to make New Orleans' levees Category-5 proof
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday said it will be several years before the levee system protecting New Orleans could be upgraded to protect the city from a Category 4 or 5 storm.
"We're really talking years," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock told CNN's "The Situation Room."
Asked if that meant as many as 10 years before the levees could withstand a Category 5 storm, he said, "Perhaps earlier than that. But it depends on what solution we come up with, whether we use beefed-up levees or we use a series of barriers."
The Corps has had a study going on for a few years about improving the levee system around New Orleans, Strock said. The cost of the project would be between $2.5 billion to $3 billion to protect New Orleans from a surge at Lake Pontchartrain.
"To provide level-five protection for the entire coast would be considerably more than that," Strock said. (Posted 9:49 p.m.)
Blanco asks Bush to declare state of emergency ahead of Rita
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Saying an effective response to Hurricane Rita is "beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco on Tuesday asked President Bush to declare a state of emergency ahead of the storm.
In a letter to the president, Blanco said the affected areas would be all the coastal parishes, including the Lake Charles, Lafayette and New Orleans metropolitan areas. She said it would also include the mid-state Interstate I-49 corridor and northern parishes along the I-20 corridor that are accepting the "thousands of citizens evacuating from the areas expecting to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Rita."
"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments due to the continuing impact of Hurricane Katrina, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster," Blanco said.
Forecasters' current projections indicate Rita will make landfall late Friday or early Saturday between Galveston and Brownsville, Texas. However, they have not ruled out the possibility of a strike on Louisiana. (Posted 8:53 p.m.)
Blanco seeks FEMA housing for Katrina evacuees
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Louisiana's governor Tuesday asked the federal disaster relief agency to help find more permanent housing for thousands of residents who remain in emergency shelters three weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said President Bush agrees with her that people need "more stable, private housing," and asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help find locations for trailers that can house those left homeless by the Aug. 29 storm.
"We believe those shelters served their initial purpose, but now our people need that interim housing we talked about so much," Blanco said. "They need more privacy. They need real communities with vital services."
Blanco told reporters she is asking FEMA to move people already evacuated from shelters to motel rooms while her administration tries to find sites for trailers that can house displaced Louisianans on a long-term basis. (Posted 8:35 p.m)
Rita's top winds strengthen to 105 mph
MIAMI (CNN) -- Hurricane Rita has strengthened into a powerful Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center reported late Tuesday.
Additional strengthening is expected over the next 24 hours, and forecasters said the storm could be a Category 4 storm by Wednesday afternoon, churning through the Gulf of Mexico with top sustained winds of 131 to 155 mph.
At 8 p.m. ET, the eye of the storm was about 65 miles west-southwest of Key West, Fla., and about 75 miles north of Havana, Cuba.
Rita was moving toward the west near 12 mph, a path it is expected to follow over the next day, according to the NHC.
It is currently forecast to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday around Galveston, Texas. (Posted 8:16 p.m.)
New Orleans launches another evacuation as Rita nears Gulf
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- New Orleans began the process of evacuating the few residents who remain in the hurricane-ravaged city Tuesday ahead of a new threat from Hurricane Rita, Mayor Ray Nagin said.
Nagin said he felt better about the city's prospects as Rita moved westward through the Florida Straits, and he said officials at all levels of government were using the lessons learned from Katrina, which is blamed for more than 700 deaths in Louisiana and another 200-plus in Mississippi.
"I think the federal government, the state government and local government are a lot smarter this time around," he said.
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the federal point man for recovery efforts, said 500 buses are standing by to take people out of the city, and contingency plans were being made to use commercial jetliners to get people out if necessary. (Posted 7:14 p.m.)
All 8 Gulfport aquarium dolphins recaptured
GULFPORT, Miss. (CNN) -- The last four dolphins still missing after Hurricane Katrina destroyed an aquarium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were recovered by biologists and trainers Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico.
They were the last of eight dolphins swept away from the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport when Katrina blasted the coast Aug. 29. The animals were unfamiliar with finding their own food and lacked the survival skills needed to live in the wild, trainers said.
The other four were rescued last week. All eight are being placed in a U.S. Navy facility in Gulfport, in a special pool used for Navy dolphins. (Posted 7:11 p.m.)
Galveston mayor declares state of emergency ahead of Rita
GALVESTON, Texas (CNN) -- Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas on Tuesday night declared a state of emergency and ordered mandatory evacuations of nursing homes and assisted living facilities starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, in preparation for a possible strike by Hurricane Rita.
She also said mandatory evacuations of other parts of the city would begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday. (Posted 7:08 p.m)
NHC: Rita could become Category 4 storm by 2 p.m. Wednesday
MIAMI (CNN) -- The National Hurricane Center warned late Tuesday afternoon that Hurricane Rita, now a Category 2 Hurricane, could become a Category 4 storm -- capable of extreme damage -- by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
A Category 4 storm has winds from 131 mph to 155 mph and storm surges from 13 feet to 18 feet, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale that measures hurricane intensity.
Earlier in the afternoon, center meteorologist Richard Knabb told CNN that Rita could become a Category 4 by later in the week as it moved westward into the Gulf of Mexico. (Posted 5:29 p.m.)
Louisiana governor's task force announces temporary housing plan
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- In an effort to meet President Bush's deadline to move Hurricane Katrina evacuees out of shelters by mid-October, Louisiana state officials Tuesday proposed extended hotel stays for evacuees and creation of temporary housing communities on church property.
This Sunday, fliers will be handed out at churches across Louisiana inviting them to host mobile home communities, according to Jerry Jones, a member of Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's housing task force.
"We think the churches can help our people both heal mentally and get back on their feet as a temporary solution before they can get back into their permanent homes," Jones said.
In addition, Blanco has asked FEMA to contract with the national hotel and motel industry to move all citizens out of shelters immediately and into hotels in their host states and in Louisiana. Jones said the hotel-motel option is an effort to "buy us some time." (Posted 4:27 p.m.)
Many Keys residents ignore call to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Rita
KEY LARGO, Fla. (CNN) -- Although thousands of residents of the Florida Keys moved to safer territory ahead of Hurricane Rita, many others have not, despite the experience of Gulf Coast residents who stayed put in the face of Hurricane Katrina weeks earlier.
To those who stayed, Gov. Jeb Bush said, "Now is the time to hunker down."
High winds and sheets of rain lashed the Keys Tuesday morning as squall lines from Hurricane Rita moved through.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the National Hurricane Center upgraded Rita to a Category 2 hurricane after a reconnaissance plane measured its top sustained winds at 100 mph. (Posted 4:04 p.m.)
Rita could pose shelter problem for Louisiana
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) --- Louisiana officials are looking for additional shelter space in the event Hurricane Rita heads for the region already decimated by Hurricane Katrina.
Some 13,000 people already are housed in shelters south of Interstate 10, the area considered most vulnerable to hurricanes. Those people could be moved to some of the 22,000 beds currently available north of I-10, leaving 9,000 vacant beds, but state officials believe more would be needed.
Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said both the state's Department of Social Services and the American Red Cross are looking for additional shelter space. (Posted 3:03 p.m.)
Bush revisits New Orleans, Mississippi
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- President Bush traveled to New Orleans Tuesday after visiting Mississippi earlier in the day. It is his fifth visit to the hurricane-devastated region.
He was greeted by Lt. Gen. Russel Honore and other military officials on the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship that has served as the command center for federal relief efforts for New Orleans.
Earlier, in Gulfport, Miss., Bush promised local officials and business leaders that the federal government will help the state rebuild, but will not control how it does so.
"I think it's really important for Mississippi folks to chart your path," Bush said. "You really don't want the federal government telling you how to rebuild. What you want is the federal government to help you rebuild. You want a partner, not somebody who's going to tell you what the strategy ought to be." (Posted 2:13 p.m.)
Texas calls National Guard troops back as Rita approaches
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Texas National Guard troops that were assisting Louisiana in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort are headed back to Texas to prepare for Hurricane Rita, which could threaten the Texas coast by the end of the week.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry recalled his state's troops Monday, saying they must begin preparations at home. Louisiana officials said the recall affects 1,099 National Guards troops.
The state is also recalling Texas Task Force 1, an urban search-and-rescue team, and other emergency personnel and equipment from Louisiana.
Brig. Gen. Brod Veillon of the Louisiana National Guard said the state has about 20,000 guard troops in the state, many on loan from neighboring states, and is prepared to call for more if it becomes necessary. (Posted 1:53 p.m.)
Louisiana authorities prepare for Hurricane Rita
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNN) -- Authorities in Louisiana are closely watching the movement of Hurricane Rita and have plans to reposition National Guard soldiers helping with the recovery of Hurricane Katrina.
"We have developed a plan this morning and it is being refined to reposition those forces in southeast Louisiana to facilities such as high-rise parking lots and things like that in the city of New Orleans ... to be in close proximity to react should we be dealt another flooding situation," Brig. Gen. Joseph "Brod" Veillon said.
"Our forces will remain in southeast Louisiana -- in the New Orleans, St. Bernard area -- in order to be prepared to handle the situation should Rita come as far east as New Orleans."
About 20,000 National Guard personnel are on duty to help with recovery efforts, Veillon said.
The latest five-day forecast from the National Hurricane Center says the storm's center is most likely to make landfall near Galveston, Texas, early Saturday, but Louisiana is taking no chances. (Posted 1:38 p.m.)
To avoid Rita, military prepares to move ships out of New Orleans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The amphibious warships USS Iwo Jima and USS Shreveport have orders to sail out of New Orleans Wednesday if Hurricane Rita continues on its current track, the U.S. Northern Command said.
The Iwo Jima has been functioning as a command center inside New Orleans for much of the military relief effort.
Navy officials said the ships need to leave because they otherwise could be damaged even if New Orleans suffered only tropical storm force winds.
Northern Command also is identifying shelters and havens outside of New Orleans it might use to house the thousands of National Guard and active duty troops now engaged in relief efforts in the coastal area. No firm decision has been made about when and if those ground troops would be moved.
The military also has preliminary plans to use fliers and loudspeakers to urge people to evacuate from part of New Orleans. (Posted 10:25 a.m.)
Nagin defends N.O. repopulation plan, after halting it ahead of Hurricane Rita
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Mayor Ray Nagin Tuesday defended his decision to repopulate parts of New Orleans, a plan he called off Monday because of fears that Hurricane Rita could reflood the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Speaking to CNN's "American Morning," Nagin said, "I would take that bet again."
"The facts are that the 911 system will be up and operational this Wednesday," he said. "The facts are we have electricity in probably 60 to 75 percent of the city -- some sections even as high as 95 percent. The facts are we're repopulating the areas that had little to no flooding."
He added that most of those who were allowed to repopulate had transportation and could evacuate on their own. (Updated 9:55 a.m.)
Rita upgraded to hurricane status, squalls move into Keys on way to Gulf of Mexico
MIAMI (CNN) --The latest named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was upgraded to a Category One hurricane Tuesday, and squall bands from Rita began lashing the Florida Keys with high winds and rain as it moved south of mainland Florida on its way to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
There, the storm is expected to strengthen before making landfall somewhere possibly on Texas' Gulf coast early Saturday morning on its current path.
Residents of the Florida Keys were urged to evacuate ahead of Rita, but as of Tuesday morning, shelters were closed and those who chose to stay were told to hunker down. (Updated, 9:55 a.m.)
Corps: Even glancing blow from Rita could flood New Orleans again
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday said New Orleans could have 2 to 4 feet of flooding if Rita dumps 3 to 9 inches of rain over the city in a six-hour period.
Rita is currently predicted to hit the Texas coast as a hurricane later this week, but it could still send inclement weather over New Orleans.
In an interview with CNN, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said officials are most concerned about the potential rainfall and storm surge that Rita could bring "because the pump systems that normally pump out the rain water from New Orleans are only operating about 30 percent capacity."
"So, it's both concern for a hurricane and for any rains that are associated with a glancing blow," he said.
Storm surge, rain and battering winds from Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago caused three levees to fail in New Orleans, causing massive flooding through nearly all of the city. (Posted 9:35 p.m.)
Katrina death toll now 970
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The overall death toll from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath now stands at 970.
The following is the state-by-state breakdown:
-- Louisiana: 736 deaths.
-- Mississippi: 219
-- Florida: 11
-- Alabama: 2
-- Georgia: 2
(Posted 7:55 p.m.)
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