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Investigation begins into deadly bus explosion on Texas highway

By wire services
Published September 25, 2005

DALLAS - Federal investigators sought clues Saturday in the burned-out remnants of a bus that exploded in a traffic jam and killed 24 elderly evacuees fleeing Hurricane Rita.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators would analyze the wreckage for evidence on the cause of the explosion that killed residents of a Houston nursing home who were heading inland away from the storm.

Mark Cooper, a lawyer for Global Limo Inc., the south Texas company that operated the charter bus, said Saturday that the company was "monitoring" the situation.

"We are and will continue to cooperate with the ongoing governmental investigation," Cooper said in a statement.

Witnesses have described smoke filling the bus cabin after it pulled over early Friday on Interstate 45 south of Dallas. The vehicle soon was in flames, and a series of explosions - probably medical oxygen canisters igniting - fueled the flames and trapped most of the occupants inside.

Three people remained hospitalized Saturday. A Parkland Memorial hospital spokeswoman said two of those patients were listed in fair condition and one was in stable condition.

Retailers scramble to deal with storm's impact

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, said Saturday that Hurricane Rita forced the closure of 150 of its facilities, including 120 of its branded stores, in Texas and Louisiana.

That amounted to about 4 percent of Wal-Mart total facilities in the United States, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman, who said the company is planning to move truck-based generators to facilities that lost electric service.

Home Depot Inc., the nation's largest home improvement retailer, also reported that 46 of its stores were closed early Saturday, including 41 in the Houston market. But by late in the day it had reopened 18 of the stores in the Houston area, which escaped the brunt of Rita's effects.

Spokesman Don Harrison said Home Depot has more than 100 trucks ready to bring supplies to stricken areas. Typically, the retailer sees increased purchases of generators, chain saws, gas cans, tarpaulin, cleaning supplies and grills for cooking after a hurricane has passed and the cleanup process begins.

Wal-Mart spokesman Marty Heires said that as of Saturday afternoon the retailer was still assessing damage in the area impacted by Rita. "We don't expect a lot of damage in Houston but we will need to wait for the return of our associates. We'll need to replenish the merchandise in those stores," he said.

Target Corp. said 36 of its stores were closed in the Gulf Coast region because of mandatory evacuation orders.

Networks offer extensive coverage of Hurricane Rita

NEW YORK - Mindful of the devastation wrought by Katrina, television networks brought a seriousness of purpose to live coverage of Hurricane Rita as it hit land Saturday at the Texas-Louisiana border.

Cable news networks stayed with the story during overnight hours, while ABC and CBS extended their morning news shows until noon.

"So far, it has been a pretty wild ride," said CBS anchor John Roberts, reporting from Beaumont, Texas.

Roberts and ABC's Bob Woodruff had the journalistic good fortune to be stationed at a Beaumont hotel where the wind tore holes and water lapped into the lobby.

Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith was blown over while reporting from Beaumont Friday night. He struggled to his feet in the mud, then held onto a street sign for balance.

"It's just stupid to be out in this," he said.

Flooding spreads misery in La.'s small fishing villages

LAFITTE, La. - As Hurricane Rita pounded past the little fishing villages south of New Orleans, it pushed water over the levees, drowning roads, buildings and homes on Saturday. Strong winds continued throughout the day, keeping the water rising steadily.

Residents of this region live among the hundreds of lakes, canals and bayous that stretch between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. They deal with more liquid than land.

Boats piloted by deputies, rescue workers and private citizens roared up and down the wide Industrial Canal, ferrying families, dogs, cats, and a woman with a huge bird cage.

Power was cut to the area as the water rose and the wind blew down electrical lines. At least three fires destroyed houses inaccessible to firefighters because of the flood.

"We'll just wait and see what happens," said Genice Rivet, who was rescued in a neighbor's boat when water poured into her house. "I didn't have much damage before today. Now we're all homeless."

Insurers say Rita's losses won't match Katrina's

NEW YORK - Insured losses from Hurricane Rita likely will be lower than those of Hurricane Katrina, according to two firms that track costs associated with disasters.

Eqecat Inc. of Oakland, Calif., estimated on Saturday that Rita's cost to insurers will be between $3-billion and $6-billion.

Meanwhile, AIR Worldwide Corp., a Boston risk modeling company, forecast insured losses of between $2.5-billion and $5-billion.

AIR Worldwide said it expects the Texas cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, and Lake Charles, La., to sustain the most significant damage.

Insured losses also are expected to extend as far south as Galveston, Texas, and as far east as New Orleans.

Before the storm took a turn to the northeast before hitting land, Eqecat on Friday estimated that Rita-related losses could total between $9-billion and $18-billion.

Total industry insured losses related to Katrina are estimated to range between $40-billion and $60-billion.

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