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Fox News Weather Center

Ten Years Since Rita: Painful Memories of Katrina Influenced Evacuation of Over Three Million

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season went down in the record books as the most active hurricane season on record for the Atlantic Basin, producing a staggering 27 named systems.

Hurricane Rita was among the strongest and most devastating of these systems, becoming a powerful Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph.

Fortunately, Rita weakened before making landfall on Sept. 24, 2005, but still slammed the coasts of Texas and Louisiana as a deadly Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph.

This came less than one month after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, bringing about another round of rain, wind and flooding storm surge to some areas that were still recovering from the wrath of Katrina.

With the devastation from Katrina fresh in the mind of many across the country, people in the path of Rita took the storm seriously.

Texas and Louisiana officials evacuated over three million residents, greatly reducing the number of people at risk from the storm, according to NOAA's report on Rita.

More than one-third of these evacuations were people fleeing from the Houston area which resulted in major traffic delays and gridlocks on the highways as people headed north and west.

Some people that were still waiting to return to their homes following Katrina were forced to wait even longer due to Rita. Portions of Louisiana were still without power from Katrina when Hurricane Rita started to impact the region.

The coastal town of Cameron, Louisiana, was one of the hardest-hit communities and was essentially obliterated by 120-mph winds and storm surge approaching 20 feet.

The reason why this town experienced the worst of the storm is because it was located just east of where the eye of Rita made landfall. It is in this area where winds are typically the strongest in hurricanes, which also translates to where the most devastating storm surge occurs.

The economic loss from Rita was substantial with the monster storm impacting nearly every industry along the Gulf Coast.

Nearly all of the oil and natural gas production in the Gulf was halted as the workers evacuated ahead of the storm, according to the Rita Report issued by the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

These evacuations likely saved the lives of many oil workers as Rita destroyed 66 oil platforms, 19 more than were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Two oil refineries in Port Author, Texas, also sustained damage from Rita, but the storm ended up missing the larger oil-refining region located around Houston and Galveston.

The agriculture, forestry and fishing industries also faced major losses.

Damage for all three of these industries combined totaled nearly $600 million in losses with over two-thirds of this coming from crops and forestry, according to the Rita Report.

Storm surge was one of the biggest factors to these economic losses with storm surge as high as 20 feet flooding areas near the coast, sending a wall of saltwater across marshlands and fields used for crops.

In addition to flooding, the salt content of the seawater had an impact on plants and animals that live in freshwater ecosystems. The elevated salt levels in the water threatened some of the wildlife in the area that depend on a supply of fresh water.

"In this low, flat wetland the damage that was inflicted was beyond comprehension to the coastal communities involved," said Mr. David Richard of Stream and Property Management.

"The damage inflicted upon National Wildlife Refuges in the area was serious and catastrophic to the infrastructure," he continued.

Rita was among the most intense hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin, ranking as the fourth strongest. However, Rita was not the strongest hurricane of the 2005 season.

Later that year, Hurricane Wilma formed and became the fourth Category 5 hurricane of the year. Wilma became even stronger than Rita. 2005 is the only Atlantic hurricane season on record to spawn so many Category 5 hurricanes with a total of four.