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Assessing Rita's wrath

Editor's Note: CNN correspondents report back on what they are seeing in communities affected by Hurricane Rita. CNN Assesses the damage caused by Hurricane Rita and what's left of the storm, tonight, 8 p.m. ET.

A good deed denied




Disasters (General)
New Orleans (Louisiana)

CNN's Jeff Koinange in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 9:10 p.m. ET

We were out filming the devastation caused by Hurricane Rita in the now famous 9th Ward section of New Orleans and had just finished our interviews and stand-uppers when my cameraman, Scottie McWhinnie, heard a faint cry coming out of one of the waterlogged houses.

Upon further scrutiny, we noticed two dogs sitting on a front porch in water that was fast rising to their paws.

Since I still had my wader on, having done my stand-upper in knee-high water, Scottie asked me to go down and see if I could rescue them.

"It'll be your good deed for the day," he said.

I walked down, dipped into the water and slowly made it toward the house.

Upon seeing me, the dogs started slowly moving away from the porch, probably more out of fear and hunger than anything. I tried to coax them with sticks of beef jerky but they kept moving away from the porch. And just as soon as I made it to the house, both dogs jumped into the water and bounded toward the next house.

I went after them but they kept going. I tried calling out to them, but no luck.

Finally, they skipped through the water and ended up on the collapsed roof of a house several feet beyond. I figured if they really wanted to be rescued they would have made some attempt to come to me.

I had tried to do my 'deed for the day,' but sometimes it doesn't always work out.

Ravaged by mosquitoes

CNN's Henry Schuster in Baytown, Texas
Posted: 7:34 p.m. ET

Sure you can see a bit of damage in Baytown -- downed power lines, some dangling drainpipes -- but what a difference from 12 hours ago.

The parking lot at our hotel is dry, the breezes are gentle and the sun is shining. We can see cars going both ways on I-10. Folks coming back toward Houston, despite the pleas of the governor (although traffic is light). The other way, some military convoys and power company trucks, heading toward Port Arthur and Louisiana.

Baytown and its refineries came through unscathed, and they should be coming back on line within days.

The worst thing to worry about in Baytown may be the mosquitoes. Last night, with all the wind and rain, they weren't a problem. But two nights ago, when the weather was good, we got ravaged by them at dusk while we were out doing live shots.

Rescues in Vermilion Parish

CNN's Stacia Deshishku in Abbeville, Louisiana
Posted: 4:25 p.m. ET

As many as 200 people have been rescued today in Vermilion Parish.

Robert LeBlanc, the Vermilion Parish emergency manager, just told me he believes there are up to 1,000 more people who might be trapped in their houses down there. Two days ago, there was a mandatory evacuation. Officials went house-to-house. They knocked on doors. They told people that they needed to get out.

Toward the Gulf of Mexico, there are areas that are only three to six feet above sea level. There are farming communities that have a lot of sugarcane and rice farms. They are pretty much underwater. I spoke to a gentleman today who said his two-story house was covered. He said it looked like the Gulf of Mexico on his street.

Throughout the area, they now have Fish and Wildlife rescuers and sheriff's deputies, police and Army National Guard. They're going out on boats and doing air rescues.

Flooding Katrina's rubble

CNN's Adaora Udoji in Slidell, Louisiana
Posted: 3:45 p.m. ET

The winds are still whipping through New Orleans and across Lake Pontchartrain, hours now after Hurricane Rita came through.

The ride north along Interstate-10 toward Slidell, Louisiana, is tough because there is so much debris blocking the road. A car passes us every so often -- some paramedics, rescue crews and insurance adjusters. But not anyone else.

The wind gusts are strong, so strong we're feeling them in our SUV. But there's barely any flooding on the road.

Slidell is another story. The northern lakefront, which was obliterated by Katrina, is now flooded again in some neighborhoods, or at least what's left of them. Katrina had already obliterated much of this area -- rows of houses crushed, pick-up trucks upside down under homes, smashed wood and shingles piled 30 feet high.

Officials say the flooding is up to three feet deep in the worst hit parts of Slidell. That hasn't stopped birds from coming back. Swans and ducks and others meander about like nothing's wrong. Other animals didn't make it. We've seen dead raccoons, boars and dogs. Not sure if it was Katrina or Rita that got them.

Officials here say they didn't have to evacuate anyone. They don't believe Rita put anyone in danger.

Beaumont refineries OK

CNN's Lisa Goddard in Mont Belvieu, Texas
Posted: 1:05 p.m. ET

I've passed what appear to be three oil refineries, all of them east of Beaumont, Texas. There were no signs of structural damage. One still had a flame lit above a high tower, even as tropical storm force winds and significant rain pounded this area.

Earlier today, driving from west to east across Houston, there was a very clear difference in storm damage. West of Houston, on Highway 610, we barely saw a tree branch on the ground. Three loose nails that had been sitting out on a highway median before the storm had moved just a foot or two after the storm.

But when we crossed through Houston to the other side of Highway 610, the damage was much more noticeable. We saw highway signs bent and warped. We also saw awnings on the ground and a few small trees toppled over.

Water surges in Port Arthur

CNN's John King in Port Arthur, Texas
Posted: 11:25 a.m. ET

Last night, after a trip through Port Arthur, Texas, we decided to take a drive down Texas Route 87 to Sabine Pass. This about where the hurricane was projected to make landfall.

It was about 1 a.m. ET, Saturday, when we made it down the narrow road. There isn't much there. It is mostly thick vegetation and marshland, but it was all whipping about in an increasingly violent swirl of wind and rain.

The water levels were rising steadily. By the time we turned to leave the Sabine Pass area, with the eye of the hurricane about 25 miles offshore, there was water on the road and our cars were bouncing around heartily.

Port Arthur is a ghost town. We spent the night tucked between two sturdy concrete buildings with a narrow passageway just wide enough to tuck the SUV and crew van side-by-side.

At the height of the storm, wood and corrugated metal from roofs and storefronts flew by in the air. A furniture delivery truck was toppled on its side.

There is storm surge water everywhere in town. It is waist deep in some homes in low-lying areas. Power lines and trees litter the streets.

While the flooding is significant, the levee along the Sabine-Neches Pass is free of any damage, and the waterline was well below the top of the barrier.

Fighting Galveston's fire

CNN's Mike Ahlers in Galveston, Texas
Posted: 11:23 a.m. ET

Fighting fires can be difficult under the best of circumstances. But imagine doing it when the winds of a tropical hurricane are fanning the flames, when a power outage has darkened much of your city and when you've stored your fire trucks for safe keeping.

Sometime before midnight Friday, Galveston, Texas, firefighters got the chance to test their skills under exactly those circumstances.

I was about to get off a command center elevator last night when I saw about five firefighters jogging down the hall to get on. I followed them to a lower floor where one of them said, "Half of downtown is burning."

It was an exaggeration, but one that can be forgiven because the orange glow of the wind-whipped fire lit up part of the downtown sky. At least two structures were fully involved, as firefighters like to say, and showers of embers were streaking horizontally down the street, threatening to set the next block ablaze.

This is a town with history, and some of that history is of tragedy. More than 6,000 people died here in a hurricane in 1900. That history had to have been weighing on the minds of every firefighter there. It certainly was weighing on mine. The raw ingredients of another tragedy were present -- an out-of-control fire, roaring winds and a steady rain.

But as the night passed, it became clear that the firefighters were winning. Galveston would still be known for the hurricane of 1900, not the fire of 2005.

Port in the storm

CNN's Bob Franken in Houston, Texas
Posted: 9:31 a.m. ET

We had it pretty good. Not only did Houston escape the brunt of the storm, but among those few who did not evacuate was the staff at the Courtyard Marriott near the Astrodome.

General Manager Austin VandeVate explained that 60 of his rooms were occupied by families who had fled Katrina. Because his staff stayed to take care of those people, we were able to get rooms and food as well. Those who wanted to partake could have a cold one at the bar too.

This would have been the proverbial "port in the storm," except the bar had no Port. "We do have lots of Cognac," VandeVate said.

We were able to get into Houston's Emergency Operations Center, which has one of those massive control rooms that has so many screens and monitors it looks like a sports bar.

Many of the big screens show reports from local and national television news. Typically, emergency officials monitor the media. But overnight, the screens went dark. It seems the crisis coordinating lost cable.

""The cable company promises to send someone to fix it," a top official said.

Boards on a Waffle House

CNN's Henry Schuster in Baytown, Texas
Posted: 5:34 a.m. ET

The wind is blowing in directions I didn't think possible. Every so often, the last remaining flag outside our motel seems to blow straight up.

We've had to lower the dish on our satellite truck after it threatened to dance off into the wind.

Remarkably, we still have power and I'm about to microwave some noodles, which makes a pleasant change from peanut butter and jelly on tortillas.

The Waffle House next door has been boarded up for three days, a sure sign that bad things were on the way.

Bumps in the night

CNN's Randi Kaye in Baytown, Texas
Posted: 4:58 a.m. ET

It's just before 5 a.m. in Baytown, Texas. We've been doing live shots since 11 p.m. Let me tell you, there is nothing scarier than being in hurricane force winds and hearing huge clangs and thumps and shattering of glass or metal. It is too dark to know where it is coming from and you just pray it doesn't come flying toward you.

Our whole crew was really careful, but there are certain chances you take to get the story out there. I can't wait until daylight to see what was going thump in the night. We lost two of the three flags on our hotel flagpoles, including the American flag. But my brave producer, Henry Schuster, chased it down and saved it.

Other than that, there's no damage to speak of.

Texas flag flying alone

CNN's Henry Schuster in Baytown, Texas
Posted: 3:39 a.m. ET

The American flag came down a few minutes ago.

It was the second of three flags outside our hotel to be ripped off its pole by the wind. I was able to grab it and bring it inside where it is drying.

Only the Texas flag is still flying.

So far, Baytown has missed the worst of it. A local policeman stopped by a few minutes ago and said the biggest problem so far has been downed power lines.

Surge overwhelms levee

CNN's Adaora Udoji in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 3:04 a.m. ET

I was warned Thursday by a New Orleans police source that the Industrial Canal Levee was in trouble. It was no surprise to anyone -- the Army Corp of Engineers, the New Orleans Police or Parish engineers -- that some of their levees could not withstand the force of a second powerful hurricane in a month.

But engineers were taken aback by the eight foot high storm surges that came earlier and harder than expected. The surges sent water bursting over a weakened barrier into abandoned neighborhoods that had been dried out the past week. In block after block, where pumps had painstakingly pulled out water, it took just hours for the water to rush back in.

We got stuck north of the city trying to get to the Florida Avenue Bridge, where the floodwaters were quickly rising. At one point, the water was rising up to ten inches a minute. We saw it creep seemingly innocently over railroad tracks on France Road in just minutes. It was intimidating because the water came so fast.

For Brigadier General Bruce Berwick of the US Army Corp of Engineers it was a sad sight. He told CNN, "We did everything possible that we could, but the storm is a very active enemy and we'll have to just keep working."

Sleeping in a jury room

CNN's Miles O'Brien in Lumberton, Texas
Posted: 2:50 a.m. ET

We are in Lumberton, Texas, based at the police station. Slept for about five hours inside the jury room. Five hours! I savored every moment inside a supply closet.

I - er - came out of the closet at 1 a.m. ET, and the power was out. The police generator had crapped out. Sure seemed like a sure thing.

The rain is steady, strong and horizontal. There is local flooding, but since we are 50 or 60 feet above sea level, we should not see a storm surge. Sure thing....

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