Students from Texas narrowly escape Rita

As the Gulf Coast began to recover from the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina a month ago, progress was threatened by another powerful hurricane, Rita. Rita was expected to hit Houston, Texas on Saturday September 24, and exacerbate the flooding of New Orleans.

However, because of the lessons that Katrina provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local governments, the damage from Rita across both Texas and Louisiana was minimal.
People living in New Orleans and other areas prone to hurricanes are accustomed to coping with extreme weather. Ryan Sakauye, a first-year from New Orleans, says that ?in the past, major hurricanes were always supposed to hit, but at the last moment they always turned away.? New Orleans was also shielded by a levee system which was designed to protect the city from Category 3 hurricanes.

Once it became apparent that Katrina was going to make landfall as a Category 4 storm, people recognized the potential for disaster. The call for voluntary evacuation from New Orleans turned into an order for mandatory evacuation the day before the hurricane made landfall. The people who were left were the ones without means ? transportation or money ? to evacuate. Many were trapped in the city.
According to recent estimates reported by the Associated Press and USA Today, Katrina cost $60 billion in damage and over 1000 lives to date. This is financially much worse than the previous most costly hurricane, Andrew, which caused $35 billion in damage to areas of Florida. New Orleans is asking Congress for $20.2 billion in federal aid in order to repair and upgrade their levee system, so that they can hope to deal with Category 5 storms.

For all the damage done, many people are optimistic about rebuilding New Orleans. Sakauye thinks that in the long term, things will get back to normal. ?I think a lot of people aren?t going to return until the economy recovers,? he said, ?which will be a long time.?

As for the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast, a major hurricane like Rita (which was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 5 storm) was a new experience for many Texans, including the parents of first-year Jeanette Schilling. Schilling?s parents intended to leave Houston by car for a hotel in Arkansas (it was the nearest they could book) the morning of the hurricane. However, they heard on the news that the roads were too jammed with traffic and that it was too late to evacuate. Three million of Houston?s inhabitants and more along the Louisiana coastline did evacuate, averting major casualties from the storm.

?I was really worried about my parents because of what happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina,? said Schilling, whose parents are unharmed.

Rita turned out to be one of Sakauye?s ?typical? hurricanes: a powerful hurricane that downgraded at the last minute. It made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, and missed Houston and most densely populated areas. Afterwards, the Army?s rescue efforts quickly changed to focus on stranded cattle, rather than humans.

According to Associated Press reports, estimates of the damage caused by Rita on insured property range from $2.5 to $5 billion. Although there were only seven casualties due to the hurricane, there were dozens of accidental deaths associated with the evacuation.