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Rita unleashes Category 5 fury over U.S. Gulf
Updated: 2005-09-22 07:17

"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we got to be ready for the worst," President Bush said in Washington.

By late afternoon, Rita was centered more than 700 miles southeast of Corpus Christi. Forecasters predicted it would come ashore along the central Texas coast between Galveston and Corpus Christi.

But with its breathtaking size — tropical storm-force winds extending 350 miles across — practically the entire western end of the Gulf Coast was in peril, and even a slight rightward turn could prove devastating to the fractured levees protecting New Orleans.

Cubans workers clean Havana's seafront boulevard after Hurricane Rita passed near Cuba September 21, 2005.
Cubans workers clean Havana's seafront boulevard after Hurricane Rita passed near Cuba September 21, 2005. [Reuters]
In the Galveston-Houston-Corpus Christi area, about 1.3 million people were under orders to get out, in addition to 20,000 or more along with the Louisiana coast. Special attention was given to hospitals and nursing homes, three weeks after scores of sick and elderly patients in the New Orleans area drowned in Katrina's floodwaters or died in the stifling heat while waiting to be rescued.

Helicopter, ambulance and buses were used to evacuate 200 patients from Galveston's only hospital. And at the Edgewater Retirement Community, a six-story building near the city's seawall, 200 elderly residents were not given a choice.

"They either go with a family member or they go with us, but this building is not safe sitting on the seawall with a major hurricane coming," said David Hastings, executive director. "I have had several say, `I don't want to go,' and I said, `I'm sorry, you're going.'"
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