Getting Ready for Rita in Beaumont, Texas
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Two Texas towns close to the Louisiana border, Port Arthur and Beaumont, are now expected to be directly in the path of Hurricane Rita. Earlier today, Texas Governor Rick Perry said that as millions of Texans have moved inland, more than 50 Red Cross shelters are on standby. The governor reassured residents that the state is prepared for the storm.
Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): We're going to get through this because so many of our citizens took this evacuation very seriously and because this state has thousands of rescue and relief workers on the standby. So be calm, be strong, say a prayer for Texas.
ADAMS: Texas Governor Rick Perry earlier today.
NPR's Alix Spiegel is monitoring the storm in Beaumont.
Alix, how many people do you figure are left in that Beaumont/Port Arthur area?
ALIX SPIEGEL reporting:
Well, officials say that about 85 percent of the people in the area have evacuated. And it does look pretty desolate. In fact, in the city of Port Arthur, all of the emergency workers have also evacuated--that's police and fire and ambulance drivers have all completely evacuated the city. So anybody who's left will really have to fend for themselves.
ADAMS: Where did the emergency people go?
SPIEGEL: They went to two places. They went to Lumberton High School and they went to the place where we are located, which is the Energy Center in Beaumont. It's a tall building. Apparently it can withstand a Category 5 hurricane. And all of the mayors of the small communities in Jefferson County, which is where we're located, have come here. They're on the third and the 12th floors. They've set up the command center and that's where they are going to run rescue operations from.
ADAMS: The evacuation plans which have been in effect for a couple of days, how has that worked out? You said about 85 percent of the people have left. Did it go OK?
SPIEGEL: Apparently there were some problems. They had contracted with a company to make sure that evacuation efforts would go smoothly. They got buses and ambulances. But sometime last week the state officials actually commandeered those vehicles in order to evacuate people from Houston. This morning I was at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport, which is where they've set up an evacuation center for the very, very sick and infirm people who couldn't evacuate themselves. Apparently it was a real struggle getting that operation off the ground as well. I was there around 7:00 this morning and there were about 200 people laid out on stretchers. They said that they probably wouldn't be able to run planes past 10:00 this morning and they weren't sure they were going to be able to get all of the critically ill people out.
ADAMS: What do the officials in the area--what do they expect in this storm?
SPIEGEL: They are very, very worried. They are talking about it in pretty apocalyptic terms. There's supposed to be a storm surge, up to 15 to 20 feet in Port Arthur, and they're even expecting to get water here in Beaumont, which is I think about 20 miles further in. And they just believe it's going to be incredibly, incredibly destructive.
ADAMS: Let's end here, Alix, with your description of what it's like now outside that emergency center.
SPIEGEL: Well, there is not a single person in view. The entire town looks like it has been emptied out. We were driving around town a little bit earlier and I did see one man on a bicycle, and we stopped. And he said he was looking for someplace to evacuate, but he didn't know where to go.
ADAMS: And the weather?
SPIEGEL: The weather actually doesn't seem very bad. It's quite pleasant, at least where we are. There's a mild breeze, but nothing severe. And if you didn't know that a hurricane was coming, you'd have no way of knowing that a hurricane was coming.
ADAMS: Reporter Alix Spiegel, talking with us from the Emergency Center in Beaumont, Texas.
Thank you, Alix.
SPIEGEL: Thank you.
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