Hurricane Rita is making landfall near Beaumont, Texas, and winds are wreaking havoc all along the Texas coast. The New York Times and Washington Post also front the surges that have breached the New Orleans levees, flooding the impoverished Ninth Ward once again. As the storm creeps toward land, it’s caused fires in Galveston and knocked out the power in coastal Jefferson County. In a banner-headline story, the Los Angeles Times reports that massive traffic jams forced coastal residents along the Texas-Louisiana border to flee on foot. *
In the best of the Rita stories, the WP’s lead zeros in on Beaumont. The town could be flooded entirely, and officials warn that if the hurricane stalls when it hits land that 11 million residents in the surrounding counties could be flooded or hit by tornado winds. * A mandatory evacuation order for Beaumont was issued, but no one’s been forced to leave yet, as emergency workers and equipment were loaded into transport ships or barricaded in hospitals to wait out the storm.
As with Katrina, the elderly have been hit hard. A bus carrying nursing-home patients burst into flames outside Dallas, killing at least 24. Police then moved the bus, with bodies still in side, away from the highway to clear up a 200-mile traffic jam. Lessons have been learned, though, as the LAT reports that military cargo planes have busily airlifting the infirm out of hospitals and nursing homes. But some Katrina lessons aren’t helping. An excellent below-the-fold NYT story says Texas officials admit they asked too many people to evacuate.
Inside the papers, it’s hurricane politics. The NYT snarkily reports that Bush won’t be in Texas as the storm strikes; the rescue team he planned to meet in San Antonio will be deployed to the coast. Bush will head to Colorado Springs, home of the disaster-response command center. The LAT gives the administration more credit, detailing Cabinet-level disaster prep. But whatever happens with Rita, there’s still behind-the-scenes talk of wholesale changes in Bush’s agenda post-Katrina. The WP fronts a good analysis, although it does bury the most interesting revelation: Bush may scrap Social Security and tax reform, stop talking about Iraq, and focus on poverty and disaster preparation.
Off-lead in the NYT, there’s a new report of prisoner abuse in Iraq. This time it’s a confession by three former soldiers in the legendary 82nd Airborne to Human Rights Watch that detainees were routinely beaten in 2003 and 2004. According to the LAT, one sergeant says the troops were acting on orders form military intelligence. He decided to come forward after he heard Donald Rumsfeld say the military had changed its procedures after Abu Ghraib.
Below the fold, the NYT reports that Bill Frist now has problems of his own. The SEC is investigating a sale of his stock in his family’s hospital chain a month before the price dropped on news of weak earnings. Frist says the stock was held in a blind trust so he didn’t know about any sales, although the AP has documents that suggest he was told about other stock transactions.
Gaza violence gets a reefer in the NYT. The WP story inside starts with rocket strikes from Gaza into southern Israel and a reprisal by Israeli helicopters against a weapons factory. The NYT story starts with what’s believed to be an accidental rocket-loaded-truck explosion at a Hamas rally, leaving 15 dead. The new Palestinian government in Gaza opened its first border with Egypt, although only temporarily to allow injured and some students to leave.
Class Act. Lawyers at American University in Washington are arguing about the definition of “first class.” American’s president signed a contract in 1997 that allowed him to travel “first class.” To the university trustees, that meant flying at the front of the plane. To president Ben Ladner and his wife, it meant European chefs and fancy parties. Extravagant trips on someone else’s dime? Looks like studying in Washington means you really do learn a lot about how government works.
Corrections, Sept. 26, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly stated that the LA Times reported that “17-foot waves” forced Rita evacuees who were stuck in traffic jams to escape on foot. People left their cars because of their frustration with the gridlock. The article also incorrectly called Beaumont, Texas, an “island town.” In fact, Beaumont is a port city. Return to the top of the article.