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Hurricane Evacuees Begin Returning Home

Traffic is moving steadily back into Houston, as a staggered return policy for people evacuated ahead of Hurricane Rita takes effect in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Many services have yet to be restored, but officials expect things to be back to normal by week's end.

Traffic is heavy, but steady along most major highways leading back into Houston. On Monday, authorities want only people from certain less-affected areas to return. People from areas farther south are supposed to return during the next two days.

In the flow of vehicles, there are people trying to get back to all areas evacuated before the storm, including some of the areas that were heavily damaged, like the cities of Port Arthur and Beaumont.

Authorities are towing abandoned vehicles to police lots, where owners can pick them up at no charge. Many people ran out of gasoline as they fled the city in heavy traffic last week and had to leave their vehicles on roadsides. Enough gas is available now that motorists returning on Interstate 45 and other major routes are not having a problem obtaining fuel.

Other services are coming back slowly. Many restaurants and stores remain closed, and motels along the return routes are fully booked.

Even though he knows his house is not inhabitable, Beaumont resident Nick Anderson drove for hours trying to get back, and could not find a hotel.

"I have been looking for about three hours, and there is nothing," he said. "My house is destroyed. I have no place to go."

Rescue and relief operations continue in Beaumont and Port Arthur where Rita caused major flooding. There are more than a dozen oil refineries in that area, but the storm did not damage them as much as had been feared. One large refinery, however, will be shut down for at least two weeks because of storm damage.

Rita also caused widespread flooding farther east, near the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and in the smaller coastal communities nearby. Officials are using the city of Abbeville, in the Louisiana Cajun country, as a staging ground for 100 boats that patrol flooded zones searching for victims who were left stranded by the storm.

In the weeks leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Rita, this area had opened its arms and its homes to thousands of people who fled the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area. Now, they, too, are feeling the wrath of nature.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, efforts continue to shore up levees and restore services, after heavy rains from Hurricane Rita passed over the area. One section of the city that had been pumped dry was flooded again by Rita. But since the area was already destroyed and deserted, the new flooding had little additional impact. City officials are working to revive parts of New Orleans, with hopes of partially re-populating the city in the weeks ahead.