Everybody leads again with Rita, which is now a Category 5 storm and is on track to hit the central coast of Texas early Saturday. About 1.1 million have been ordered to evacuate—that includes residents of low-lying areas in Houston, the country's fourth-largest city. The hurricane is expected to slow down a bit before making landfall. But as it stands, Rita is the third-strongest hurricane ever recorded. (Katrina clocked in at No. 5.)
Rita is currently slated to miss New Orleans by a wide margin, but levees could give way if the city gets just heavy rain. The Financial Times says officials are worried about the possibility of even 3 inches. Other papers put it at 6 inches.
Knight Ridder and the Los Angeles Timesboth have pieces explaining why Rita and Katrina blew up into super-storms. The two lingered in a spot of the Gulf that currently has "perfect hurricane fuel: ultra-deep, super-warm water."
As USA Todaynotes in a front-page piece, officials on all levels are, not surprisingly, going the extra mile to prepare. After Katrina, officials in Galveston went door to door making a list of citizens who would need help evacuating. They were all out by yesterday afternoon. As for Washington, President Bush has already declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana. And thousands of active-duty troops are on standby. The Wall Street Journal notices that the administration has named another Coast Guard admiral as the fed's point man for Rita, "bypassing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a second time."
Texas has far more refineries along the coast than Louisiana and Mississippi do. "We all sort of hope that Rita is not as strong as Katrina," said one analyst. "But if you put them on an equal basis you are talking about nearly three times the amount of refining capacity that is at risk." Oil prices picked up again yesterday, and the stock market took a small dive.
The New York Timeshas a particularly glum piece about the prospects for the energy market. "Even if you restart [refineries] on Sunday, it's going to be two, three or four days before they are fully operational," said a market analyst. "Can we afford to have that much supply out of the market? It doesn't seem that we can."
The Washington Postsays that in a break with tradition, the gambling industry will be allowed to take part in the tax breaks to be offered in the "Gulf Opportunity Zone." "The casinos don't need this," said one local economist. "If they are [eligible], that would be a complete waste of money." The WP actually has a better story buried—and barely mentioned—within its story: So-called opportunity zones have been tried before in the region, with questionable results. Western Mississippi has had one since 1994, and one economist said it has "had zero impact." Follow-up, anyone?
The Post flags a GAO report concluding that the Pentagon's accounting books are so FUBAR the military doesn't know much it's spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Really. Here's how the government report puts it: "Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent." The story is stuffed onto A23. That's better than the other papers, which put the public report nowhere that TP sees.The Pentagon has been losing billions for years. Does that make it a non-story? (Bonus annoyance: Why didn't the Post link to the actual report?)
Citing a "church official," the NYT fronts apparently pending Vatican rules barring men who are gay from becoming priests even if they're celibate. Pope Benedict hasn't put the proposal to paper yet. But according to the "church official," the question is not "if it will be published, but when."
The NYT fronts and others go inside with two studies showing that flu vaccines are only moderately effective. They also found that resistance to anti-virals is seriously spiking, from less than 1 percent of the samples 10 years ago to 12 percent in 2004. *