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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Latest update on Rita

Rita Strengthens Into Category 2 Hurricane
Sep 20 1:31 PM US/Eastern


By MICHELLE SPITZER
Associated Press Writer

KEY WEST, Fla.

Rita strengthened rapidly on Tuesday to a Category 2 hurricane as it lashed the Florida Keys with flooding rain and strong wind and sparked fears the storm could eventually bring new misery to the Gulf Coast.

Rita went from a tropical storm with top sustained wind of 70 mph early Tuesday to a hurricane with 100 mph wind by early afternoon as it passed just south of the Keys, the National Hurricane Center said.

Thousands of residents and tourists had fled the low-lying island chain, where forecasters said Rita could dump up to 8 inches of rain, down from earlier forecasts of up to 15 inches.

Rita threatened to continue gaining strength as it left Florida and crossed the warm Gulf of Mexico for a weekend landfall, most likely in Texas although Louisiana or northern Mexico could end up in the path of what could become a major hurricane.

"Farther out, we do anticipate further strengthening up to Category 3, or major hurricane status," Chris Sisko, a meteorologist at the hurricane center, said before Rita rose to Category 2. Category 3 storms have maximum sustained wind of 130 mph.

Data from a hurricane chase plane confirmed the increase to 100 mph wind, the hurricane center said.