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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

Rita growing weaker, slower

Wind, threat of more flooding halts rescue operations

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HURRICANE RITA

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

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LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (CNN) -- The remnants of what had been Hurricane Rita dragged closer to their demise, but residual winds, flooding threats and darkness have forced an end to search-and-rescue efforts in southwest Louisiana.

Officials south of Abbeville in Vermilion Parish will wait until Sunday to find trapped families that did not follow mandatory evacuation orders ahead of the hurricane.

Wind whipping at 30 mph is heaving water from Vermilion Bay and the Vermilion River onto land. Rescuers say they will wait until those conditions subside before resuming rescue missions.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco reported that a parish emergency official said 250 people were rescued Saturday, but as many as 1,000 more may need help.

Within the past three hours, Rita's sustained wind speed dropped another 10 mph to 40 mph, and forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning stretching from High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

The storm surge that created flooding should begin subsiding along the southeast Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, though tides could be 4 to 6 feet above normal with large waves, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Rita, now a tropical depression -- with sustained surface winds of 38 mph or less -- continues to limp up the Texas-Louisiana border.

Much of Lake Charles, Louisiana, is flooded with choppy, wind-whipped water. The mayor is asking evacuees to stay out and for those who rode out the hurricane to adhere to a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Hurricane-force winds smashed dozens of boats on Lake Charles after freeing them from their moorings. An Interstate 10 overpass that crosses the lake was shut down after high winds Friday night forced an 18-wheeler to jackknife. (Watch video of flooded Lake Charles, Louisiana, as the city's mayor describes damage -- 3:00)

In addition to flooding in low-lying areas of the city, several casinos along the river also were awash in floodwater.

The water continues to rise and could cause flooding well after Rita departs Louisiana.

If the lake rises further it could threaten the city's downtown.

Residents who did not evacuate the city were told to head to the Lake Charles civic center Saturday afternoon, where buses would pick them up for transport to temporary shelters.

Military relief commander Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said he was moving 400 troops from New Orleans to Lake Charles to link up with emergency response personnel, as soon as high winds in the area allow safe passage. (Watch more video of the flooded city of Lake Charles -- 10:20)

In addition, the National Guard is shifting nearly 2,400 troops who were providing relief from Hurricane Katrina in Alabama and Mississippi to help with the response to Rita in western Louisiana and eastern Texas.

The Louisiana National Guard is focusing on getting boats, trucks and high-water vehicles to Cameron, Vermilion, and Calcasieu parishes as part of the overall rescue effort, guard spokesman Maj. Ed Bush said.

David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Saturday that storm damage "is not as severe as we expected." Paulison said mandatory evacuations ahead of the storm worked, and there are no reported deaths.

But Valero Energy reported Saturday that recovery teams found "significant damage" to its oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, following the hurricane. Shell reported wind damage to its Motiva facility in Port Arthur.

At 8 p.m. ET, Tropical Storm Rita's center was very close to Shreveport, Louisiana, and moving north at 11 mph.

Forecasters expect it to bring torrential rain in the next few days.

Rita's center slammed into the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana near Sabine Pass, Texas, with winds of 120 mph at 3:30 a.m. ET. (Watch: 'The wind is whipping all around me' -- 1:45)

Minor-to-significant damage and power outages were reported throughout the region. (City-by-city impact)

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.

Other developments

  • In New Orleans, parts of the Lower 9th Ward were swamped by up to 12 feet of water Saturday from Rita's heavy rain overnight, said Mayor Ray Nagin. (Full story)
  • In Texas, the Jefferson County Sheriff's department said people who were trapped in an apartment building near Beaumont were able to get out unharmed. (Watch how Beaumont fared in the storm -- 4:06)
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered evacuees from the city of Beaumont and Jefferson and Orange counties not to return home until officials say it's safe. (Watch Houston's mayor describe Rita's damage to his city -- 5:32)
  • Rita did not significantly damage the nation's largest oil refinery, near Houston, Texas, according to an official who monitors the region, but other structures were not as fortunate. Officials at Valero Energy and Shell Oil said their facilities in Port Arthur were impaired. (Full story)
  • In Lumberton, Texas, police had to rescue a family trapped in their home when a large tree fell on it. No injuries were reported. (Watch Lumberton police describe rescuing a family -- 5:30)
  • In downtown Galveston, Texas, two historic residences and a commercial building were engulfed in flames. Winds of up to 70 mph fanned the flames and caused a blizzard of blowing embers as firefighters fought the blaze. (Watch crews fight winds, flames -- 1:15)
  • CNN's Rick Sanchez, Miles O'Brien, Randi Kaye and John King contributed to this report.

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