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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 September 2005, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Rescuers comb wetlands after Rita
Man drags boat across flooded highway in Lafitte, Louisiana
Rita largely spared New Orleans but not the wetlands
People who defied orders to evacuate from the Cajun swamps of south-west Louisiana are being sought by rescue teams in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

Helicopters were used to bring 500 people to safety from high waters south of New Orleans but others were reported stranded by flooding down the coast.

The storm badly damaged several towns along with ports in Texas. One person was killed by a tornado in Mississippi.

But with Houston spared a direct hit, many Texan evacuees have headed home.

State authorities reported that traffic jams were beginning again as people headed for the city, America's fourth-largest.

Texan Governor Rick Perry appealed to people to delay their return, as his administration made plans to stagger the return.

During last week's evacuation, traffic jams stretching 160km (100 miles) were recorded.

"Be patient, stay put, there are still concerns over flooding, fallen debris," Mr Perry said.

In other developments:

  • One person is reported killed and several injured in Mississippi by a tornado which spun off from the hurricane

  • New Orleans' mayor calls for residents to begin returning to the city swamped by Hurricane Katrina.

Winds hinder search

Game wardens and other emergency workers used boats, flying boats and helicopters in Louisiana's flooded Cajun wetlands to search for stranded residents who refused to heed storm warnings.

Images of the Gulf Coast towns hit by Hurricane Rita

Strong winds continued to drive high water inland, making rescue operations hazardous, and the search for some 15 people in Vermilion Parish was called off until Sunday.

"We're risking lives to save their lives when they had an opportunity to leave," Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillan was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

In the town of Lake Charles, an oil refinery and gambling centre, falling trees and storm surges from the lake damaged many homes but no casualties were reported.

"It's not as bad as I feared but it's still devastating," town police chief Don Dixon told AFP news agency.

"There is a lot of wind damage. Some of the huge oak trees have literally crushed houses and now we're starting to worry about the storm surge. We've got people out there who need help and we've got to go right now."

Bush in Texas

President George W Bush, in the Texan state capital Austin on Saturday, warned against rushing back to the affected areas.

There were people walking who were going faster than my car
Wendy Carson
Texan evacuee

"Even though the storm has passed the coastline, the situation is still dangerous because of potential flooding," he said.

"The first order of business now is search and rescue teams - to pull people out of harm's way."

The BBC's Daniella Relph notes that the White House has taken a very hands-on approach to dealing with Hurricane Rita.

Mindful of the mistakes of Katrina, Mr Bush has had a visible role in the preparations and now the aftermath of this latest storm, our correspondent reports from Houston.

Another BBC correspondent, Alastair Leithead, was in the historic Texan oil town of Beaumont, which suffered much structural damage but not a much-feared storm surge from Lake Sabine.

He said that the places hit in the area were mainly isolated oil towns, not the centres of population that would really suffer from a major hurricane strike like this.

See the aftermath of Hurricane Rita

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