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Andrew Locke and Bob Sullivan

From Sept. 22-27, the posts in this blog about Rita's evacuation and devastation were reported and photographed by Bob Sullivan and Andrew Locke. Sullivan, 37, is MSNBC.com's technology and consumer fraud reporter. Locke, 34, in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial strategy, was on his second hurricane blog tour.

David Friedman and Miguel Llanos

From Sept. 18-22, the posts in this blog, examining Katrina's impact on the environment, were reported and photographed by Miguel Llanos and David Friedman. Llanos, 45, is MSNBC.com's environmental reporter. Photojournalist Friedman, 35, is a multimedia producer at MSNBC.com.

Kari Huus and Jim Seida

From Sept. 10-16, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Kari Huus and Jim Seida. Huus, 43, has been a journalist for 20 years and a reporter with MSNBC.com since 1996. Seida, 39, has been a media editor with the Web site since 1996.

Mike Brunker and Andrew Locke mugshot

From Sept. 2-9, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Mike Brunker, left, and Andrew Locke. A journalist for 25 years, Brunker, 49, is MSNBC.com's West Coast news editor. Locke, 34, has been a journalist for 17 years and is currently in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial media strategy.

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How to help the victims of Hurricane Rita

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A GIANT GHOST TOWN

Posted: Friday, September 23 at 02:04 pm CT by Bob Sullivan

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A man walks a dog on a deserted downtown Houston street at what would normally be rush hour. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)

HOUSTON -- Everyone, it seems, is gone. America's fourth-largest city appears to be the world's largest ghost town. We walk near City Hall and find almost no one.

At noon, the wind is already whistling through empty streets, an eerie noise, often the only noise that breaks the silence. It's a strong enough breeze to make you hold your hat, and gets stronger minute by minute, like a train approaching from a distance. How loud will it get?

Street signs are already flipped on their sides. Newspaper coin boxes are tipped over, lying on their backs like dead bodies -- to prevent them from being flopped later by the storm. Even before Rita hits, Houston looks like a city that has been hit by a storm.

A thin line of sandbags protects every bank and business office doorway, a token attempt to protect against light flooding. If Rita decides to hover around Houston for a while, they'll be useless.

We keep walking, and we find a few homeless stragglers wandering the streets. One sleeps silently outside City Hall. Another tells of his secret stash of food, hidden somewhere in the city in case shelters have nothing to offer in the next 36 hours.

Duke Judas, 47, sits alone on top of a garbage can -- he's half-watching news broadcasts on a big-screen TV that's still running in a bank window. He tells us he doesn't know where he plans to spend the night.

Houston, however, is not completely empty. Hidden in the ghost town are teeming mini-cities, like the hotel we're in, The Magnolia. It's just a few blocks from City Hall, right downtown.

It's a menagerie here; this is a high-class hotel with brass fixtures and big conference rooms, but today, it's the world's nicest dog pound.  Elevators are crammed with pets sniffing each other,licking new friends, and tangling each other's leashes.

The hotel is well prepared -- in part because it's full of New Orleans evacuees. An entire group of JP Morgan employees who left New Orleans is now working in Houston, with the company footing the hotel bill, we're told.

There's a mandatory meeting for all guests in the hotel's ballroom this afternoon, which is where we'll be ordered to as soon as the storm strikes.

Outside, as the wind picks up, there's even some nervous levity. Colby Bissitt, from East Houston, tries his hand at hurricane graffitti. On windows covered with plywood, he's painting messages to the storm.

"Camp Rita," it says. And, "We love Margaritas."

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Colby Bissitt, 20, of Houston paints Rita graphiti on the boarded up windows of a downtown Houston hotel. Bissitt is going to ride out the storm at home. "It's gonna be the storm of the century, man. I can't miss that." (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)

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