A powerful hurricane has moved past Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. People in Texas and Louisiana are boarding up, moving out and wondering if Rita could be as bad as Katrina -- or worse.

Hurricane Rita, with winds of 165 miles per hour, barreled toward Texas yesterday after dumping rain and high winds on the islands known as the Florida Keys.

What Rita will do is unclear. If the storm follows its current path, it could hit the coast of Texas late Friday or Saturday. Weather forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the storm could weaken before reaching land.

But three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, people are preparing for the worst. Residents of the Texas island of Galveston were packing up photographs and pets and leaving their homes yesterday. Many said the damage done by Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi made the decision to leave easy.

"After . . . Katrina, I just cannot fathom staying," 59-year-old Ldyyan Jean Jocque told the Associated Press. She had books and clothes in a plastic bag and her dog in a pet carrier as she got on an evacuation bus in Galveston.

The most deadly hurricane in U.S. history hit Galveston in 1900. That unnamed storm killed 8,000.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, the city hit hardest by Katrina, the few people who have come back are being told they must leave again. If Hurricane Rita's path were to change, it could hit Louisiana. Even a rain storm of three to six inches could again cause New Orleans to flood, government officials say.

About 7,000 people who were evacuated from New Orleans to Texas are being moved again as Rita bears down.

September is the month when the greatest number of tropical storms and hurricanes develop in the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. That's because storms gain strength from warm waters. September water temperatures tend to be high because of the buildup of heat over the summer months.

-- Tracy Grant

School buses carry evacuees out of Galveston as Hurricane Rita approaches Texas.