I for one am getting tired of reading words like "most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded".
Wilma's confirmed pressure readings this morning dropped to 882 millibars — the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Atlantic basin, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed.
Forecasters said Wilma was stronger than the devastating Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, the strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record.
But Wilma was not expected to keep its record strength for long, as disruptive atmospheric winds in the Gulf of Mexico should weaken it before landfall, Hurricane Center meteorologist Hugh Cobb. Gulf water is about 1 to 2 degrees cooler than that in the Caribbean, which should inhibit its strength more, he added.
The strongest storm on record, based on the lowest pressure reading, had been Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which registered an 888 millibar reading.
That's a good thing for many reasons, not the least of which being that the areas devastated by Hurricane Rita are still in desperate need of help.
After more than three weeks of disappointing responses from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spotty media coverage, several Southeast Texas officials and business leaders are starting their own relief efforts and openly appealing to fellow Texans for assistance.
"We're not self-reliant. We're not too prideful. We're crying out now and saying we need help," said Mark Viator, a Beaumont pastor and manager of public and government affairs for chemical giant BASF Corp.
East Texas leaders say they have little choice but to plead for individual and corporate donations to help dig their citizens and already depressed economies out of what some have deemed the "forgotten hurricane."
"We needed an alternative to just complaining," said Walter Diggles, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, known as DETCOG, which represents 12 counties. "We needed to give people who wanted to do something an opportunity to make sure their contributions went directly to the Rita victims."
The organization he leads began accepting contributions this week to the East Texas Rita Fund, established at the First National Bank in Jasper.
"Now we're looking to our sister communities across Texas to assist like they did with the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and other major disasters," he said.
East Texas leaders have complained about slow, disorganized and inconsistent relief efforts from FEMA and the Red Cross.
They say FEMA offered more benefits to Hurricane Katrina victims, and the Red Cross excluded most East Texas counties from automatic relief for damaged homes, even though President Bush declared many of the counties disaster areas.
The agencies have insisted they are doing the best they can.
The Red Cross procedure allows Rita victims to appeal for damage assistance later, but Red Cross officials have acknowledged that the new procedure has caused confusion and frustration.
In Beaumont, Regina Rogers, an attorney who runs three nonprofits, is helping oversee fundraising efforts for the Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Rita Recovery.
The fund, which originally helped Katrina victims, was designated for East Texans after Rita, Rogers said. About $1.3 million has been raised so far, including $1 million from Exxon Mobil and $250,000 from BASF, Rogers said.
She said her goal is not only to raise $10 million to $15 million but to educate potential donors about the devastation Rita caused when it hit a region already weakened and depleted financially after weeks of feeding, housing and donating money to Katrina victims.
"What's unfortunate is so many people, even folks in Houston, are just totally unaware of the damages in this area," she said.
• East Texas Rita Fund, benefiting 12 counties represented by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. Contributions to: First National Bank, P.O. Box 700, Jasper, TX 75951
• Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Rita Recovery, established by business and philanthropic leaders in Beaumont. Contributions to: P.O. Box 201943, Houston, TX 77216-1943