Devastated By Worst US Hurricane In 1900, Galveston Readies For Rita
Galveston, Texas (AFP) Sep 21, 2005
Devastated by the deadliest US hurricane on record in 1900, the fragile island city of Galveston braced for what could be a deadly hit by Hurricane Rita on the Gulf coast of Texas.
A massive exodus from the city of 57,000 was under way Wednesday, with bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road leading to Houston, 60 kilometers (40 miles) away.
Ambulances, sirens blaring, rushed out patients in critical conditions, families packed their belongings in their cars and dozens of school buses ferried those who do not have their own transport.
The streets were virtually deserted and most gas stations, stores and restaurants shut down.
But a few surfers stood on the beach staring disconsolately at the still-flat seas, under clear skies that betrayed nothing of the impending threat.
"The weather is great for evacuation," said Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, who has told residents to flee the city, located on a fragile sand barrier island.
"It's time to leave now, right now, and stay gone until we say it's OK to come back," she said late Tuesday, declaring a state of emergency.
She warned that the city "is facing the imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury and loss of life and property resulting from the approaching Hurricane Rita.
A number of residents said the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and neighboring Mississippi on August 29 was a wake-up call.
"After Katrina, I don't want to give this one a chance," said Paco Vargas, 50, as he boarded up his restaurant and readied to leave town with his 21-year-old son.
"You can replace a building, you can replace an inventory, but you can't replace a life," said Vargas, who planned to join his wife who had already evacuated to Dallas.
Once a booming center of trade known as "the Wall Street of the South," thanks to its busy port, Galveston was devastated by a September 8, 1900 hurricane that ranks as the deadliest natural disaster in US history.
The unnamed hurricane killed between 8,000 and 12,000 and destroyed much of the low-lying city, which is now protected by an 11 kilometer (seven mile) seawall.
The 1900 storm ranked at the same category four that Hurricane Rita reached Wednesday when it packed winds of 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour.
Forecasters have warned that Rita's intensity could climb another notch to reach the highest level on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.
The storm is expected to make landfall on the Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday.
The National Hurricane Center forecast a track that could have Rita slam ashore southwest of Galveston, which would put the city and nearby Houston on the northeastern quadrant of the storm, which packs the strongest punch.
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