Accessibility links

Texans Rush to Shelters as Hurricane Rita Approaches

Traffic along highways leading out of the southeastern Texas Gulf region has diminished and tens of thousands of people have taken shelter. In one tragic incident near Dallas, 24 elderly people evacuated from Houston died when their bus exploded.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says more than two and a half million people have moved out of the coastal areas of southeast Texas that are the most vulnerable. He says state officials are assisting evacuees with badly needed fuel, water and other resources.

Governor Perry says the state is also preparing to respond to problems that are likely to occur as the hurricane moves inland.

"We are pre-positioning search-and-rescue personnel and doing the same for mass-care strike teams," he said. "We will have a strong law enforcement presence in the aftermath of this storm in the areas that are impacted. We obviously are very committed to continuing and maintaining law and order. As we speak, shelters are filling up all across the state of Texas. We are continuing to make the necessary arrangements to provide a haven for all of those who are in need of shelter."

Governor Perry says there are more than 54 Red Cross shelters on standby in case they are needed in the hours ahead.

Heavy rains generated by the storm have complicated the already precarious situation in New Orleans, which flooded after the passage of hurricane Katrina earlier this month. Heavy downpours could undo much of the cleanup work that has been done in the past three weeks and officials have new concerns as the Luisiana city's levee system already sprung new leaks, Friday morning.

In Houston, officials say the evacuation from vulnerable areas has gone well, in spite of long lines of slow-moving traffic seen on highways over the past two days. Traffic is now moving much faster, although many people were forced to abandon their vehicles by the side of the road when they ran out of gas.

Houston Mayor Bill White says relief operations in and near the city have succeeded in getting water and gasoline to many stranded motorists. He says citizen response to the crisis has helped speed the relief effort.

"People did follow the orders to evacuate and the traffic conditions are not what they were yesterday, which means that the relief can get there much quicker," he said.

The biggest industry in Houston and southeast Texas is oil and gas. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico closed down operations as the storm approached. Around 70 percent of oil production and almost 50 percent of natural gas production from the Gulf of Mexico has been shut down. Many refineries and petrochemical facilities along the coast have also been closed. This is likely to cause a spike in gasoline prices nationwide since 28 percent of U.S. gasoline production comes from the 21 refineries in the region.