Despite the dire situation in southwest Louisiana and across the Sabine River into east Texas, authorities were relieved that Houston and cities along the vulnerable coastline in both states appeared to have been spared widespread destruction.
Authorities said a tornado killed one person in the Mississippi Delta. In the storm's direct path, no other fatalities and few injuries were initially reported.
According to latest Internet posts of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), Rita was downgraded to Category 2 with winds of 167 kph at 8 a.m. (1200 GMT), and was centered between Jasper and Beaumont, Texas.
He said people should not take it easy since the impact seems to be smaller than anticipated, because more floodings could come,especially on the east flank of the storm's eye.
Mayfield said the water will not subside until Rita's winds diedown, which is not expected before Saturday afternoon.
A key natural gas installation in southern Louisiana known as Henry Hub, through which a third of the nation's natural gas flows and where spot gas prices are determined, was damaged by Rita, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.
"We understand there is a gas leak and ... a possible shearing of an oil storage tank," Blanco told CNN.
She gave no other details about the damage or its effects on gas delivery, but said the leak would have to be plugged.
"We're watching the situation very carefully," Blanco said.
Rita and Katrina knocked out nearly all energy production in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and 30 percent of the U.S. refining capacity onshore.
At least three oil refineries were damaged by Rita, oil companies said.