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Governor sets up fund to assist storm victims; state continues preparations

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

As Hurricane Rita pushes closer and closer to the Texas coast, bearing down on the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, many coastline cities are virtual ghost towns.

More than two million Texans fled the Texas coast ahead of the storm, which has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm after having approached the Texas and Louisiana coast as a Category 5 storm earlier today.

Emergency operations centers in the affected areas are on high alert, as is the State Emergency Operations Center in Texas, as the state prepares for the storm to lash the coast with sustained high winds and rain, and then flood events predicted in Northeast Texas as the hurricane moves north and is expected to stall. Some 25 inches of rain could hit areas of Northeast Texas that include Nacogdoches and Angelina counties, north as far as Texarkana.

As Texas prepares for the onslaught of Rita, Gov. Rick Perry announced the establishment of the Texas Disaster Relief Fund, a way for Texans to help fellow Texans who will suffer losses from the storm.

"Texans' generosity and compassion is as large as our great state, and the Texas Disaster Relief Fund will help provide immediate assistance to Texans affected by Hurricane Rita," Gov. Perry said. "Contributions, no matter the size, will directly help our neighbors and communities recover in the aftermath of this storm."

For more information on the fund and to make a contribution, click on Governor Perry's website, or mail donations to the Office of the Governor, Texas Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 12878, Austin, TX 78711-2878.

The governor's office reports that Texas National Guard forces and active military have flown more than 40 missions to airlift some 3,000 individuals - mostly frail, elderly and special needs individuals. Another 1,000 have been voluntarily airlifted and many more transported by motor vehicle.

With the storm expected to make landfall either late tonight or early Saturday, the state has already pre-positioned search and rescue personnel and mass care strike teams to enter affected areas after the storm when it is deemed safe. Perry also has announced there will be a strong law enforcement presence in the affected areas, aimed at preventing looting. Local law enforcement officials will receive support from 5,000 National Guard troops and 2,000 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is asking doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to volunteer to provide care for evacuees who have moved inland from the Texas coast to escape Hurricane Rita. And U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt today declared a public health emergency in Texas so the state can readily access resources and assets of the federal government and federal agencies to deal with health issues.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is asking foster families to call toll-free, 1-888-233-3405 to check in and provide their evacuation location and contact information.

With millions of Texans fleeing the coast, many have taken to Texas parks for temporary residences until the hurricane dies out. However, many state parks in the hurricane's path are closed. Texans with questions about park closures or available campsites should call (512) 389-8900 or visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website.

With so many Texans fleeing their homes, telephone traffic is increasing heavily, particularly in and out of the affected areas. The Texas Public Utility Commission has recommended that Texans keep phone calls into the impacted area to a minimum and instead suggest the use of text messaging services to contact friends and loved ones. Text messaging services, the note, will keep more voice lines available for emergency use.

The governor's office notes that families seeking to locate their loved ones may call the American Red Cross' toll-free hotline, 1-877-LOVED-1S (1-877-568-3317) or visit the American Red Cross website. Texans evacuating from the coast may call 2-1-1 or 1-888-312-4567 for evacuation and shelter information.

More news links and relief effort resources from KERA

More news from KERA's NewsRoom