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Hurricane Rita

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As hurricane Rita begins it’s ascend on the Gulf side of Texas it appears that

Two communities that may bear the brunt of the storm are Beaumont, which is a petrochemical, shipbuilding and port city of about 114,000; and Port Arthur, a city of about 58,000 that's home to industries including oil, shrimping and craw fishing.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Rita was centered about 260 miles southeast of Galveston and was moving to the northwest at near 9 mph. Its winds were near 140 mph, down from 175 mph reached late Wednesday and early Thursday.

Hurricane warnings were in effect from Port O'Connor, Texas, to Morgan City, La., and the National Hurricane Center forecast the storm would make landfall as a "dangerous hurricane of at least Category 3 intensity."

Tropical storm warnings also were in effect east and north to include New Orleans, still crippled by Hurricane Katrina. Rita's steady rains Thursday were the first since Katrina and the forecast was for 3 to 5 inches in the coming days  dangerously close to the amount engineers said could send floodwaters pouring back into recently dry neighborhoods.

Updates to follow<]

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Crude oil prices fell Friday for a second consecutive day and gasoline futures prices slipped as traders gauged news that Hurricane Rita had weakened, implying that damaged to refinery capacity in the Gulf could be less severe than originally feared.

With Texas refineries being above sea level, unlike many around New Orleans that were disabled by last month's Hurricane Katrina, there's less potential for flood damage.

Light sweet crude for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange slipped 80 cents to $65.70 a barrel by midday in Europe. Heating oil dropped 5 cents to $1.9950 a gallon while gasoline fell 7 cents to $2.0680 a gallon.

While forecasters said the storm could slow further by the time it reaches land, analysts also say lesser winds still pose a serious threat to oil rigs and refineries. Worries remain about a direct hit on the Texas coastline, home to more than a quarter of U.S. refining capacity.

As Rita plowed through the Gulf of Mexico, eleven of Texas' 26 refineries, with a combined daily capacity of 4 million barrels, have been shut.

On Thursday, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said 605 platforms in the Gulf were un staffed. More than 90 percent of the region's oil production was blocked, while more than 65 percent of natural gas production was affected.

Also Thursday, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said in an interview with The Associated Press in Washington that he would like to see <]the price of crude fall by about $20 a barrel below what it is now.

Prince Saud al-Faisal said there is no shortage of oil, and that prices should stabilize at $40 to $45 a barrel.<]

More to follow<]

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A bus carrying elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita caught fire and was rocked by explosions early Friday on a grid locked highway near Dallas, killing as many as 24 people, authorities said.

"Deputies were unable to get everyone off the bus," Dallas County Sheriff's Department spokesman Don Peritz said. He said he believes 24 people were killed, but that number could change.

The bus, with about 45 people on board, had been traveling since Thursday. Peritz declined to give details on who the passengers were except to say they were from a nursing home in Bellaire, an upscale enclave within Houston.

Early indications were that it caught fire because of mechanical problems, then passengers' oxygen tanks started exploding, Peritz said. He said the brakes may have been on fire.

The bus was engulfed with flames, causing a lengthy backup on Interstate 45 already congested with evacuees from the Gulf Coast. The bus was reduced to a blackened, burned-out shell with large blue tarps covering many seats, surrounded by police cars and ambulances.


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