Hurricane Rita remains a huge and intensely dangerous category-five storm as it spins through the Gulf of Mexico on a collision course with the U.S. state of Texas.
Highways across eastern Texas are jammed with motorists Thursday trying to move away from the state's Gulf coast before the storm makes landfall. At last report, Rita was packing winds of more than 270 kilometers per hour.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Rita may weaken but will likely come ashore as a major hurricane late Friday or early Saturday.
Heavy rains are expected in New Orleans, Louisiana, where officials fear levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina could fail again and cause more flooding.
On Wednesday, President Bush declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana, and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
The agency's chief R. David Paulison said that truckloads of water, ice and food are already in place.