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Nuke Plant in Rita's Path to Shut Down

An enormous nuclear power plant, the South Texas Project, isin the path of Hurricane Rita. The plant is located inMatagorda County, between Bay City and Palacios. STP's tworeactors produce 2,500 megawatts of electricity, enough formore than one million homes and businesses. Plantspokesperson Sheila Ormand says that the plant is equippedto handle winds up to 300 MPH, and so does not anticipateany damage from the storm. Nevertheless, officials areshutting down the plant. "We have a specific plan in placeon what to do with a hurricane approaching," spokesman AlanMikus said. "Our plan calls for the complete shutdown of theplant in advance of the storm's arrival."

STP is a major power source in the south Texasarea, and if power lines to the plant are cut, outages willbe extensive along a two hundred and fifty mile corridorfrom San Antonio to Houston, including both of these citiesand the state capital, Austin.

As of 10:00 AM CDT on September 21, Rita packed winds inexcess of 140 MPH and was classified by NOAA as "extremelydangerous." Rita is still well offshore and is expected toboth strengthen and grow over the next 24 hours. It ispossible that Rita will come ashore as a Category 5 hurricane.

All of Galveston Island has been evacuated, with even FEMAofficials leaving. In 1900, a hurricane that came ashore inGalveston swept the island with a gigantic storm surge andkilled more than 5,000 people. The island is at risk for asimilar storm surge if Rita's front wall hits it.

It is still possible that Rita's course could change, butthe absence of any high pressure in the area to move thestorm off its current track suggests that it will likely hitGalveston and Houston more-or-less directly.

Large areas of development south of Houston are low-lyingand could be subject to extensive flooding. In addition,wind damage where the hurricane makes landfall is likely tobe tremendous.

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