Rita's Wrath Proves a Relief

The storm still packed a punch, but preparation pays off.
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Updated from Sept. 24

Hurricane Rita brought flooding, fire and power outages to Texas and Louisiana throughout the weekend, but its impact didn't match the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina weeks earlier, as a massive evacuation earlier in the week seemed to pay off.

"As bad as it could have been, we came out of this in pretty good shape," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the

Associated Press

after a helicopter tour on Sunday.

The storm slammed into the Sabine Pass area of Texas' Jefferson County around 3 a.m. local time as a Category 3 hurricane. Up to 4 inches of rain were reportedly falling per hour in the Louisiana city of Port Charles.

By late morning, the storm had weakened to the minimum level of hurricane status -- sustained winds of 75 miles an hour -- and local advisories in both states were either knocked down to tropical storm warnings or, in the case of New Orleans, discontinued.

Rita moved quickly north as a tropical depression, as earlier forecasts of a slow-moving storm that would dump 25 inches on the South went unrealized.

However, localized flooding was reported, as the National Hurricane Center noted that tides along the Southeastern Louisiana and Mississippi coasts could be four to six feet above normal and accompanied by large waves. About 500 people were rescued from high waters along the Louisiana coast as officials continued to field emergency calls from distant areas surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, the

AP

said.

One death was reported -- in Mississippi -- but damage surveyors were continuing to investigate. Officials said most of the areas in Rita's path were effectively evacuated before the storm's arrival. While Rita likely dealt a blow to energy infrastructure around Sabine Pass, it spared a direct hit to Houston, where the region's refining capacity is centered.

In New Orleans, rain drenched the city and strained its already damaged levee system but the forecast for up to three inches of rain throughout Saturday was less than expected.

Just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina snarled U.S. crude and natural gas output along the Gulf Coast, most of the region's production and transportation capacity was shut down ahead of Rita. About 25% of domestic crude production and refining capacity is located in the area.

Crude oil and gasoline futures traded lower Sunday in response to reports that refinery damage was light. A 255,000 barrel-a-day plant in Port Arthur, Texas owned by

Valero Energy

(VLO) - Get Report

appeared to be the most heavily damaged facility, the

AP

said, facing at least two weeks of repairs.