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Texans fleeing Rita stalled by traffic
Updated: 2005-09-23 07:00

HOUSTON - Hurricane Rita closed in on the nation's fourth-largest city and the heart of the U.S. oil-refining industry with howling 145 mph winds Thursday, sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing in a frustratingly slow, bumper-to-bumper exodus. AP reported.

Cherlyn, left, and Lane McWhorter of Baycliff, TX ride in the back of a pickup truck with their animals in Houston, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005.
Cherlyn, left, and Lane McWhorter of Baycliff, TX ride in the back of a pickup truck with their animals in Houston, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005. [AP]
"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," said Judie Anderson, who covered just 45 miles in 12 hours after setting out from her home in the Houston suburb of LaPorte. "They say we've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina. Well, you couldn't prove it by me."

In all, nearly 2 million people along the Texas and Louisiana coasts were urged to get out of the way of Rita, a 400-mile-wide storm that weakened Thursday from a top-of-the-scale Category 5 hurricane to a Category 4 as it swirled across the Gulf of Mexico.

It also made a sharper-than-expected turn to the right late in the afternoon, on a course that could spare Houston and nearby Galveston a direct hit and send it instead toward Port Arthur, Texas, or Lake Charles, La., at least 60 miles up the coast, by late Friday or early Saturday.

But it was still an extremely dangerous storm — and one aimed at a section of coastline with the nation's biggest concentration of oil refineries. Environmentalists warned of the possibility of a toxic spill from the 87 industrial plants and storage installations that represent more than one-fourth of U.S. refining capacity.

Rita also brought rain to already-battered New Orleans, raising fears that the city's Katrina-damaged levees would fail and flood the city all over again.
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