Contrary to dire forecasts, Rita and its heavy rains moved quickly north instead of hovering over the South for days and dumping an anticipated 25 inches of rain.
"As bad as it could have been, we came out of this in pretty good shape," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called the lack of widespread fatalities "miraculous." As of Sunday night, only two deaths had been blamed directly on Rita – with officials crediting last week's epic evacuation of 3 million people for saving countless lives, the Associated Press reports.
In Houston, which was spared the brunt of the Category 3 storm, officials set up a voluntary, staggered plan for an "orderly migration," permitting re-entry to different areas on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to prevent the massive gridlock that marred last week's slow yet frantic exodus out of town.
By Sunday night, a seemingly endless stream of charter buses, cars and SUVs clogged the southbound lanes of Interstate 45 into Houston, AP reports.
On the other hand, authorities reportedly had problems keeping residents of southern Louisiana from treading through floodwaters in their boats to see for themselves what Rita had wrought on their homes and businesses.
"I've been through quite a few of them, and we've never had water like this," said L.E. Nix, whose home on the edge of a bayou in Louisiana's Calcasieu Parish was swamped with 3 feet of water. "I had a little piece of paradise, and now I guess it's gone."
The re-flooding in New Orleans from breached levees was isolated mostly to areas already destroyed and deserted. By Monday, workers predicted that once the breaches are re-sealed, the heavily hit Ninth Ward can be pumped dry in a week.
Along the coast of central Louisiana, where Rita's heavy rains and storm-surge flooding pushed water up to 9 feet in homes and into fields of sugarcane and rice, weary evacuees slowly returned to survey the damage.
In some cases, it was severe. "All I got now is my kids and my motorhome," said Tracy Savage, 33, whose house in rural Vermilion Parish was four feet underwater.
Michael Ainsworth / The Dallas Morning News / AP