TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Rescuers Find More Survivors, More Damage

Rescuers Find More Survivors, More Damage

Brett Martel (
Mon, 26 Sep 2005 17:31:13 -0500

By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press Writer

With Hurricane Rita's floodwaters receding along the Texas-Louisiana
coast Monday, rescuers pushed deeper into hard-hit bayous to pull out
residents on skiffs, crews struggled to clean up the tangle of smashed
homes and downed trees, and Army helicopters searched for up to 30,000
stranded cattle. Basically they had to start over where they had
left off with Katrina.

The death toll from the second devastating hurricane in a month rose
to seven with the discovery in a Beaumont, Texas, apartment of five
people -- a man, a woman and three children -- who apparently were
killed by carbon monoxide from a generator they were running indoors
after Rita knocked out the electricity.

While residents of the Texas refinery towns of Beaumont, Port Arthur
and Orange were blocked from returning to their homes because of the
danger of debris-choked streets and downed power lines, authorities in
Louisiana were unable to keep bayou residents from venturing in on
their own by boat to see if Rita wrecked their homes.

"Knowing these people, most of them are hunters, trappers, farmers,
they're not going to wait on FEMA or anyone else," said Robert
LeBlanc, director of emergency preparedness in Vermilion
Parish. "They're going to do what they need to do. They're used to
primitive conditions."

And many were finding that conditions were, in fact, primitive. Across
southwestern Louisiana's bayous, sugar cane plantations, rice fields
and cattle ranches, many people found they had no home to go back to.

Terrebonne Parish's count of severely damaged or destroyed homes stood
at nearly 9,900. An estimated 80 percent of the buildings in the town
of Cameron, population 1,900, were leveled. Farther inland, half of
Creole, population 1,500, was left in splinters.

"I would use the word destroyed," Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said of
Cameron. "Cameron and Creole have been destroyed except for the
courthouse, which was built on stilts on higher ground. Most of the
houses and public buildings no longer exist or are even in the same
location that they were."

Houses in the marshland between the two towns were reduced to piles of
bricks, or bare concrete slabs with steps leading to nowhere. Walls of
an elementary school gymnasium had been washed or blown away, leaving
basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling. A single-story white home
was propped up against a line of trees, left there by floodwaters that
ripped it from its foundation. A bank was open to the air, its vault
still intact. A lifeless telephone sat nearby.

"We used to call this sportsman's paradise," said Honore, a Louisiana
native. "But sometimes Mother Nature will come back and remind us that
it has power over the land. That's what this storm did."

In the refinery town of Lake Charles, National Guardsmen patrolled the
place and handed out bottled water, ice and food to hundreds of people
left without power. Scores of cars wrapped around the parking lot of
the city civic center.

Dorothy Anderson said she did not have time to get groceries before
the storm because she was at a funeral out of town. "We got back and
everything was closed," she said.

Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said its teams used
small boats to rescue about 200 people trapped in their homes. In
Chauvin, a steady stream of people were brought by small boats from
flooded sections of Terrebonne Parish. Some cried as they hauled
plastic bags filled with their possessions.

"This is the worst thing I've ever been through," said Danny Hunter,
56. "I called FEMA this morning, and they said they couldn't help us
because this hasn't been declared a disaster area."

"Texas is a disaster area!" Jenny Reading shouted. "I guess the
president made sure of that, and everyone just forgot about us."

A Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman said that Terrebonne
Parish was declared a disaster area for Katrina but not for
Rita. Officials were checking to see if the residents were eligible
for Rita help.

With the floodwaters going down, officials turned their attention from
rescuing people to saving property, including cattle - many of which
were seen swimming in the brown floodwaters.

The Army used Blackhawk helicopters equipped with satellite
positioning systems to search for cattle amid fears as many as 4,000
may have been killed in Cameron Parish alone, where ranchers on
horseback struggled to herd the weak and emanciated animals into
corrals attached to pickup trucks.

"Take all the coastal parishes, they all had cattle," said Bob
Felknor, spokesman for the Louisiana Cattlemen's Association. "It
could be more than 30,000 in trouble."

Texas put the damage from Rita at a preliminary $8 billion.

At least 16 Texas oil refineries remained shut down after Rita, which
came ashore early Saturday at Sabine Pass, about 30 miles from
Beaumont. A refinery in Port Arthur and one in Beaumont were without
power, and a second Port Arthur refinery was damaged and could remain
out of service for two to four weeks.

"We didn't dodge a bullet with Rita; we took a couple bullets in the
legs with Katrina and Rita," said Tom Kloza, an analyst with the Oil
Price Information Service of Wall, N.J. "It's still a significant
loss, and it's going to create some supply problems through at least

Early estimates were that Hurricane Rita will cost U.S. refiners about
800,000 barrels a day in capacity, on top of a drop about 900,000
barrels a day because of Katrina. Kloza said the national average for
a gallon of regular gasoline could again top $3.

In Washington, President Bush said the government is prepared to again
tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease any new pain at the pump,
and he urged motorists to cut out any unnecessary travel.

"We can all pitch in by being better conservers of energy," Bush said.

Gasoline and traffic were both flowing smoothly as metropolitan
Houston continued its second day of a voluntary, staggered re-entry
plan, an attenpt to avoid the epic gridlock that accompanied the
exodus of nearly 3 million people last week.

"It's not stop-and-go traffic. Everything is flowing," said Mike Cox,
a spokesman for the Texas Transportation Department. He said crews
were also making progress in clearing trees and downed power lines
from major roads.

In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin picked up where he left off before
Rita with his plan to reopen the Big Easy, inviting people in the
largely unscathed Algiers neighborhood to come back and "help us
rebuild the city."

About 300,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, and 250,000
in Texas on Monday, a number cut in half since the storm hit. A
spokesman for Entergy, a major utility in both states, said it could
be more than a month before some customers have power restored, and
rolling blackouts are possible if residents in unaffected areas do not
cut back on usage.

Among the deaths attributed to Rita was a person killed in Mississippi
when a tornado spawned by the hurricane overturned a mobile home, and
a Texas man struck by a falling tree. Two dozen evacuees were killed
before the storm in a bus fire near Dallas.

Associated Press writers David Koenig, Julia Silverman, April Castro and
Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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