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Strong punch, not knockout
Oilfields affected, mild blow to Houston

Lake Charles (Louisiana), Sept. 25 (Reuters): Rescue teams searched for people stranded in Louisiana’s flooded Cajun country while Texas officials urged nearly three million evacuees from Hurricane Rita not to rush home today.

The storm dumped up to 30 cm of rain and lashed the border region of the two states with 192 kph winds when it crashed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico yesterday.

Rita pushed in a 4.5-metre storm surge that swamped the Cajun communities of southern Louisiana and left hundreds of people stranded in or on top of their submerged homes. The storm dealt a glancing blow to Houston, centre of the US oil industry, but badly damaged small towns and cities to its east.

Shaken survivors emerged to find a panorama of destroyed buildings, debris-strewn streets, downed power lines and toppled trees. Those who defied evacuation orders and rode out the storm said it was a frightening experience.

“I called on Jesus for four hours,” Gloria Matthews said. “The house was shaking and the wind was roaring.”

A key natural gas installation in southern Louisiana known as Henry Hub, through which a third of the nation’s natural gas flows and where spot gas prices are determined, was damaged by Rita, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco said. “We understand there is a gas leak and ... a possible shearing of an oil storage tank,” Blanco told CNN.

She gave no other details about the damage or its effects on gas delivery, but said the leak would have to be plugged.

Rita and Katrina knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 per cent of the US refining capacity onshore. At least three oil refineries were damaged by Rita, oil companies said.

Rita cut power to more than two million people in Texas and Louisiana. Utility companies said it could take a month to fully restore electricity in the stricken region.

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