On Sept 22, Hurricane Rita peaked at Category 5 with 175 mph winds, but it weakened this afternoon to Category 4 storm. The United States National Hurricane Center warned Rita could have a "potentially catastrophic" impact, even if it weakens slightly before landing, late on Friday or early on Saturday. Rev. Leong, chairman of Houston Chinese Christian Hurricane Relief Committee (HCCRRC) and pastor of Southwest Chinese Baptist Church urged all Chinese churches to pray that the hurricane can be diverted.
President George Bush declared states of emergency in Texas and Louisiana, all of Galveston, Texas, low-lying sections of Houston and Corpus Christi, and a mostly empty New Orleans. In all, over 1 million along the Gulf Coast have been told to get moving.
"Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for New Orleans and Galveston. I urge the citizens to listen carefully to the instructions provided by state and local authorities. And follow them," Bush said.
Even though Hurricane Rita is moving towards Houston area, several areas are considered as safety zones, where people are urged to evacuate voluntarily, so around 2 million people have remained in Houston.
The majority of Chinese churches and relief organizations will remain in Houston because they are located in safe zones. Even though most churches have closed, the church will be open and used as shelters if required.
Leong said that those with relatives living outside the affected areas are encouraged to go there. If the government orders, all churches, that are remaining, will be encouraged to evacuate. However, he spoke about the problems of congested traffic-jams, where cars are moving at only 6-8 km per hour in fourteen hour. If the evacuee¡¦s cars run out of gas, then they will end up in a more dangerous position. Another concern is that some church buildings might not be strong enough to endure the hits of hurricane Rita.
Christian relief and development agency International Aid announced today that its hurricane relief operations, which have been in place since Katrina struck on Aug. 29th, are now preparing to conduct an additional aid distribution effort in the wake of Hurricane Rita.
The Michigan-based agency expects to draw on the assets it has already assembled in the region during the past three weeks, which include on-site relief distribution and logistics teams; its major relief distribution center at Stennis International Airport in Hancock County, Miss.; close working ties to local and federal officials; and the agency's extensive donor network.
"We have the process and infrastructure in place to wage an expanded Gulf Coast relief effort on two fronts," said Myles D. Fish, International Aid President and CEO. "Our team is in continual consultation today with regional government officials in our shared command center at Stennis airport. If a temporary evacuation is ordered, we expect to return shortly, and our forward-deployed relief center will enable us to move supplies rapidly into the affected area."
Meanwhile, AP reports that National Guard and medical units have been placed on standby as helicopters were being positioned and search-and-rescue boats from the state wildlife department were staged on high ground. Louisiana's governor said she also asked for 15,000 more federal troops.
Although Houston is 100 kilometers inland, it is a low-lying, flat, sprawling city whose vast stretches of concrete cover clay soil that does not easily soak up water. The city is beribboned with seven bayous that overflow their banks even in a strong thunderstorm. Those bayous feed into the Ship Channel, Clear Lake and Galveston Bay.
Scientists have warned that the storm surge from a hurricane could cause the bayous' currents to reverse, pushing water back into the city and swamping mostly poor, Hispanic neighborhoods on the southeast side of Houston.
While many Houston evacuation center is preparing to treat local victims, 250,000 victims of Hurricane Katrina, who evacuated to Houston, has again been order to relocate to the Arkansas Military Camp.
Leong, who has been assisting the relief efforts for the past three weeks, calls upon all Chinese churches to comfort disaster victims from both Hurricanes. Many evacuees of Hurricane Katrina were expecting to return home in less than three to six months, but they are again relocating in less than three weeks.
In the face of Hurricane Rita, a category 4 storm, pastor Leong prays that the wind can be weaken, damages can be lowered, and the wind can blow the hurricane back to the sea.
"Even though from a scientific standpoint, it is something impossible, but in God, everything is possible." Leong further stated, "We hope that Christians from every region can pray for us."