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The latest on Rita and Katrina

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

CNN: Levee protecting New Orleans 9th ward is breached

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- A CNN photojournalist said the industrial canal levee has been breached and water is "rushing in" -- as high as two feet in some areas -- hours before Hurricane Rita was expected to make landfall west of the city.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disputed that characterization, saying water had simply overtopped the levee and was causing localized flooding only. (Posted 10:55 a.m.)

Water already overtopping levees, hours before Rita's expected landfall

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Water is overtopping the industrial canal levee triggering some flooding in New Orleans' 9th ward, hours before the brunt of Hurricane Rita is expected to make landfall west of the city.

While the Army Corps of Engineers expected flooding from Rita, it was not anticipated this early.

Mitch Frazier, a spokesman for the corps, said it was not clear if the flooding was caused by rain or a storm surge.

"We don't know, likely a little of both," he said.

He said officials are headed to the neighborhood, which along with the rest of the city, is largely vacant.

"(We're) not worried right now," Frazier said. "The good news is the structure remains intact."

A CNN photojournalist reported rising waters in the 9th Ward, at least two-feet deep.

The 9th Ward is the low-lying neighborhood inundated when Katrina breached the levees, causing Lake Pontchartrain to flood the city. People were forced to their rooftops because of the high waters.

According to the National Hurricane Center, as much as 3 inches of rain could be dumped in the New Orleans area when Hurricane Rita sweeps across the Gulf coast -- a threshold that the Army Corps of Engineers has said may overwhelm that city's fragile levee system.

The Army Corps of Engineers explains that there are temporary structures of sandbag and gravel at the site of the breaches and seepage is to be expected.

-- CNN Correspondent Mary Snow and CNN photojournalist Alfredo DeLara contributed to this report (Posted 10:40 a.m.)

Bus carrying elderly evacuees explodes south of Dallas, as many as 20 may have died

DALLAS (CNN) -- A bus carrying as many as 45 elderly evacuees from Houston exploded in flames Friday south of Dallas. Dallas County Sheriff's Sgt. Don Peritz said 14 to 15 people got off the bus and conceded as many as 20 others may have died.

Peritz said the incident is believed to have started with a mechnical problem, a brake that caught on fire.

The bus pulled to the side of I-45 and people were getting off when there was a series of explosions believed to have been caused by oxygen canisters being carried by the evacuees. (Posted at 8:55 a.m.)

Latest numbers on Hurricane Rita

(CNN) -- Here are the latest numbers from the National Hurricane Center's 8 a.m. EDT advisory:

Top wind speed: 140 mph; unchanged from previous advisories.

Saffir-Simpson scale status: Category 4 (131-155 mph)

Location of storm center: 260 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and 220 miles south-southeast of Cameron, La.

Movement: Northwest at near 9 mph.

Size of storm: Hurricane-force winds extend up to 85 miles from the center.

Estimated landfall: Early Saturday between Galveston, Texas, and the Texas-Louisiana border. (Updated 8:10 a.m.)

Texas National Guard providing fuel for stranded motorists

HOUSTON (CNN) -- Two tanker trucks carrying 5,000 gallons of gas apiece will assist motorists who have run out of fuel while sitting in snarled evacuation traffic in Houston, a Texas National Guard spokeswoman said early Friday.

The trucks will be sent out at dawn, and will also provide fuel for gas stations located along evacuation routes -- particularly Interstates 10, 45, 59 and 290, said Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, spokeswoman for the national guard.

Houston residents were facing snarled traffic and lack of fuel along the routes as many attempted to leave town in advance of Hurricane Rita. (Posted 2:58 a.m.)

Grand Isle residents evacuating already-devastated community

GRAND ISLE, La. (CNN) -- On the southern edge of Louisiana's Gulf coast, 1,500 residents living on the state's only inhabited barrier -- an area already devastated by Hurricane Katrina -- were forced to evacuate a second time Thursday.

More than 80 percent of the homes on the island were washed away three weeks ago or stripped of their foundations. Now, residents are facing the possibility that Grand Isle could be completely destroyed.

When Katrina slammed into the coast 50 miles to the east, its winds drove 12 to 20 feet of water across Grand Isle, authorities said.

Although Grand Isle isn't in Rita's direct path, the predicted 15- to 20-foot storm surge is expected to cause more severe flooding. (Posted 2:43 a.m.)

NHC: Rita's winds no real threat to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The main threat posed by Hurricane Rita to storm-battered New Orleans is rainfall, not wind, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Although the city remains under a tropical storm warning, "any tropical storm force winds in the New Orleans area are expected to be confined to a few squalls associated with quickly moving rainbands," the center said in its 2 a.m. update Friday.

However, the center says New Orleans could receive 3 to 5 inches of rainfall from Rita if it strikes as projected in Texas. (Posted 2:28 a.m.)

NHC: Rita planners should brace for at least Category 4 landfall

(CNN) -- Calling Hurricane Rita "very, very dangerous," the director of the National Hurricane Center warned Thursday night that despite fluctuations in the storm's strength, those in its path should plan for at least a Category 4 landfall.

Max Mayfield predicted another strengthening in the storm Thursday night, possibly from its current Category 4 to Category 5.

The center likely will move onto the upper Texas coast early Saturday, he said. There already were tropical storm-force winds and rain bands off the Louisiana coast, and Mayfield said they would be felt on land late Thursday night.

By about Friday afternoon, the winds and rain will spread to the Texas coast. Forecasters have said Rita likely will land between Galveston and the Louisiana state line.

Mayfield said that when Rita makes landfall, it is expected to match the power of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans after it came ashore Aug. 29. (Posted 10:20 p.m.)

Houston mayor advises residents still at home to stay home

HOUSTON (CNN) -- A shift to the east in the predicted path of Hurricane Rita, traffic jams and lack of fuel along evacuation routes prompted Houston's mayor to urge residents of nonthreatened coastal areas to stay home if they have not already begun fleeing by Thursday night.

To start the journey this late could put them in more danger than staying put, Houston Mayor Bill White told reporters.

For the thousands of motorists stuck in traffic along the four major evacuation routes, White promised help was on the way to provide gasoline, water and bus rides. (Posted 9:15 p.m.)

Houston airports to close Friday; long lines as screeners leave

HOUSTON (CNN) -- Commercial flights out of Houston's two airports will shut down at noon Friday ahead of Hurricane Rita, the city announced Thursday, and passengers trying to flee the city by air faced lengthy snarls when scores of security screeners failed to report for work.

A spokesman for Houston Mayor Bill White's office said about 100 TSA workers did not come to work Thursday, causing major delays in security checks. TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said his agency was "aware of the situation and anticipated it," making arrangements to bring TSA personnel from other airports in Texas to Houston. (Posted 7 p.m.)

Texas hospitals using lessons learned from Katrina

(CNN) -- Hospital administrators learned valuable lessons last month after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, and plan to apply them when Hurricane Rita hits Texas, a spokeswoman for the Texas Hospitals Association said Thursday.

Most of Houston's approximately 72 hospitals -- with some 16,000 beds -- were planning to stay open, said Amanda Engler.

"That's a lot of beds," she told CNN in a telephone interview from Austin. "It just would have been such a massive effort" to move the patients out of the hurricane zone. As of late in the afternoon, only 25 of them had shut, she said.

In preparation for riding out the storm, the hospitals began early this week to stock up with three to four days of food and water and enough diesel fuel to run the generators for several days, she said. (Posted 5:58 p.m.)

New Orleans could see 3- to 5-foot storm surge from Rita, mayor says

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- New Orleans could see 3- to 5-foot storm surges from Hurricane Rita if it strikes as projected in Texas, but levees already breached by Hurricane Katrina have been shored up ahead of the storm, Mayor Ray Nagin said Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center extended a tropical storm watch as far east as the Mississippi-Louisiana state line Thursday afternoon, but Nagin said flooding was likely to be limited to a few inches.

Bush to view Texas storm preps ahead of Rita

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will fly to Texas and Colorado on Friday to visit with emergency workers and U.S. Northern Command headquarters ahead of Hurricane Rita, the White House said Thursday.

The visit will allow Bush "to get a firsthand look at the preparations that are under way for Hurricane Rita and to show our support for the first responders as they get ready for the response to Hurricane Rita," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The move came after three weeks of criticism over Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm now blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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