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Officials urge preparedness as Hurricane Rita approaches Texas coast

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

County officials have called for the mandatory evacuation of all of the more than 260,000 residents of Galveston County ahead of Hurricane Rita, which is churning its way toward the Texas Gulf Coast and picking up speed as it moves.

Weather forecasters are predicting that the Category 2 hurricane could become Category 4 storm by 2 p.m. Wednesday. Although it is too early to tell, forecasters fear that the Galveston area could be directly in the path of the storm.

Gov. Rick Perry today recorded a video message to be broadcast to Texans regarding the importance of making personal plans in preparation for the hurricane, which if it continues on its current path, could make landfall in Texas either Friday or Saturday.

"We've seen the tragic effects of a deadly hurricane in recent weeks," says Perry in the announcement, referring to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that decimated New Orleans and wreaked havoc, death and destruction in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi three weeks ago. Katrina was a Category 5 storm, and the damages she left behind were multiplied by levees that broke in New Orleans.

Perry said he is hopeful that the hurricane will dissipate before it makes it to the Texas coast, telling Texans there is "no need to panic," but urged coastal area residents to take safety measures because it is "better to be safe than sorry."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), a Galveston native, said officials in her hometown are preparing for the mandatory evacuation if the storm continues on its path toward that city. "People know how to prepare" for a hurricane, said Hutchison of her fellow coastal residents. She noted that even though some 8,000 people died during the hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900, there were a lot of homes that survived that storm. She reminded that Hurricane Carla that hit Galveston in 1961 was also a Category 4 storm.

Hutchison said Texas officials are urging those fleeing the hurricane, many of whom usually head to nearby Houston to ride out such storms, not to go to Houston. She said that city is "overloaded" right now with evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who are occupying many hotels, motels and other housing units in the city. She said evacuees are being urged to go further inland to areas such as Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. The senator also noted that some of the Katrina evacuees currently are being moved to other states such as Arkansas and Tennessee to make room for any coastal residents in Texas who flee to the Houston area.

Hutchison said Texas is "very much prepared" for hurricanes, with systems in place tracking the storm. She added that equipment has been pre-positioned in case evacuees need to be moved.

Perry announced Monday that he has summoned the Texas National Guard troops, Texas Task Force One and other emergency personnel and equipment back to the state in case they are needed as a result of Hurricane Rita. Some 1,200 Guard members from Texas and numerous other emergency personnel were in Louisiana, assisting with the cleanup and relief efforts there after Hurricane Katrina.

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