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Hurricane Rita evolves into 165-mph Category 5 monster

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) – Gaining strength with frightening speed, Hurricane Rita swirled toward the Gulf Coast a Category 5, 165-mph monster Wednesday as more than 1.3 million people in Texas and Louisiana were sent packing on orders from authorities who learned a bitter lesson from Katrina.

“It’s scary. It’s really scary,” Shalonda Dunn as she and her 5- and 9-year-old daughters waited to board a bus arranged by emergency authorities in Galveston. “I’m glad we’ve got the opportunity to leave. … You never know what can happen.”

With Rita projected to hit Texas by Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry urged residents along the state’s entire coast to begin evacuating. And New Orleans braced for the possibility that the storm could swamp the misery-stricken city all over again.

Galveston, low-lying parts of Corpus Christi and Houston, and mostly emptied-out New Orleans were under mandatory evacuation orders as Rita sideswiped the Florida Keys and began drawing with terrifying efficiency from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Between 2 a.m. and 4 p.m., it went from a 115-mph Category 2 to a 165-mph Category 5.

Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland – most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992. where the freeways are often clogged under the best of circumstances.

Mayor Bill White urged residents to look out for more than themselves.

“There will not be enough government vehicles to go and evacuate everybody in every area,” he said. “We need neighbor caring for neighbor.”

At the Galveston Community Center, where 1,500 evacuees had been put on school buses to points inland, another lesson from Katrina was put into practice: To overcome the reluctance of people to evacuate without their pets, they were allowed to bring them along in crates.

“It was quite a sight,” said Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. “We were able to put people on with their dog crates, their cat crates, their shopping carts. It went very well.”

Physics and Astronomy opens new high-tech ‘smart lab’

The Department of Physics and Astronomy opened a new “smart lab” at the beginning of this semester, with plans to add 25 more computers to the lab in the future, bringing the total number to 50, said Debi Choudhary, coordinator of the lab and a professor in the department. It cost about $150,000 to install the lab, he said, adding that it provides students with tools to analyze data. One of the computer software programs, The Sky, can simulate all the heavens, allowing students to do astronomical surveillance. It’s like a virtual observatory, Choudhary said. “They can also do analysis like the professional people do,” he said. Next semester, Choudhary said he plans to have new additions to the lab next semester, including data from the NASA Mars rover mission. Other scientific information on planets will also be added next semester. The reason the lab was installed was because the Physics and Astronomy Department wanted make itself more attractive, Choudhary said. “They should be able to appreciate the data that they see,” he said.

Corrections and Clarifications

In “Burdine brings Harmony to women’s volleyball team,” published Sept. 20, a quote was incorrectly attributed to Cal Poly women’s volleyball team assistant coach Rafael Paal. The actual source of the quote was head coach Jon Stevenson.