Hurricane Rita struck Texas and Louisiana early Saturday, destroying windows, sparking fires and causing a power outage to over 1 million homes.
The Hurricane Center said, Rita made landfall at 3:30 EDT as a Category 3 storm on the Texas-Louisiana border, just east of Sabine Pass, bringing winds to 120 mph, and warning of 25 inches of flooding.
However, the storm weakened to a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds as it moved between Beaumont and Jasper, the Center reported.
Meteorologist Mark McInerney said, according to AP that Rita’s rainfall has rose to 4-10 inches, with the counties of Jasper and Newton in Texas as the most flooded.
Search and relief teams waited until the storm subsided in order to help residents.
In New Orleans, rain drenched the abandoned city early Saturday, flooding rose to 3 inches, while heavy rains fell more south with a tidal surge of six to seven feet, inundating neighborhoods.
The fires reported, included a two-story apartment in southeast Houston, authorities said according to AP that the fire damaged at least eight units, but there were no injuries.
In Beaumont, winds damaged roofs, blew out windows, signs were twisted and lying in the street with fallen trees, but there was no significant flooding, only a light rain.
Stretching from Galveston to Houston, over 675,000 CenterPoint Energy customers in Texas had no power, Patricia Frank a company spokeswoman said, while an Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde said that 250,000 Texans and about 300,000 Louisiana customers lost all power, AP reported.
Before the storm hit, a mass exodus of thousands of cars, estimating about 3 million people, left Texas and Louisiana, that resulted in traffic jam for over 10 hours. Many of those cars ran out of gasoline.
On Saturday, the Pentagon sent out 500 active-duty soldiers, and about 27,000 National guards who were ready to respond to Texas and Louisiana.
President Bush, on an Air Force base in Colorado received reports on the flooding, and the search and rescue efforts.
"It comforts me knowing that our federal government is well-organized and well-prepared to deal with Rita," Bush said according to AP. "The first order of business now is search and rescue teams — to pull people out of harm's way."
FEMA spokesman, Butch Kinerney said the search and rescue teams would be looking for stranded people, but will assess other damage such as bridges, roads, and oil refineries, AP reported.
Disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are prepared to deliver hundreds of thousands of meals a day to assist in the relief effort.
"Before the storms come, during the storms and well after the storms have gone, The Salvation Army is prepared and ready to respond with meals, water, shelter and personnel trained to help people and communities," said Major George Hood, national community relations and development security, whose organization has responded to past hurricanes such Ophelia, Dennis, and most recently Katrina.