Mass evacuation in progress as Hurricane nears US

A mass evacuation is underway along parts of the Gulf coast of the US as Hurricane Rita is upgraded to a Category Five storm.

Wind speeds of up to 175mph are forecast to hit the Texan coast as meteorologists track the course of the slowly advancing storm, one of the most intense ever to threaten the US.

President George Bush has declared a state of emergency in Texas and neighbouring Louisiana, urging residents to heed evacuation orders as the US authorities began to prepare for the worst.

As the storm soaked up energy from the warm seas of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been upgraded to Category Five storm with wind speeds in excess of 155mph, the highest rating.

Hurricane Katrina which caused devastation in New Orleans and Louisiana in August was a Category Four with wind speeds between 131 and 154mph.

On Thursday the eye of the hurricane was some 500 miles from the US coast. However, meteorologists expect that the storm, which despite the high winds, moves at less than 10 miles an hour, will be downgraded to a Category Three by the time it hits land near Galveston on Saturday.

Residents have been ordered to leave Galveston and parts of Houston as the storm threatens these areas. Most of the residents appear to have left Galveston. Some are refugees from Louisiana who had taken shelter from Hurricane Katrina.

Fears of a storm surge have prompted desperate efforts to repair damage to the weakened flood defence system in parts of Louisiana still recovering from the last hurricane.

Hurricane Rita, which hit the Florida Keys on Tuesday when it was a Category Three storm, caused minor flooding and caused some structural damage.

It is reported that 70% of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut down, prompting a further surge in oil prices worldwide.

The confirmed death toll in the US from Hurricane Katrina exceeded 1,000 this week.


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