Beaumont Hit Hard By Rita, Looters

The southeast Texas city of Beaumont loses power after Hurricane Rita rolls through, amid reports of wind damage. Police are out doing search and rescue missions. Deaths are anticipated. Looting has been a problem.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Beaumont, Texas, was in Rita's path a few miles inland. NPR's Adam Davidson has been driving through Beaumont.

Adam, what do you see?

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Well, it's a mixed story. There is a fair degree of devastation. There are some houses down, some buildings down. I'd say the vast majority of structures are in place. I mean, plenty of signs ripped off and things like that. The police and fire and emergency crews are out trying to do search and rescue. At the last word I was told thye've not found any dead bodies, but they do expect to.

There has been a lot of looting, and that's a big concern. I met some police officers who were trying to secure one grocery store. They said a gun was stolen. And that's their biggest fear, that guns will be stolen. So they actually are posting police officers at all shops that sell guns.

SIMON: People would evacuate and not take care to lock up the guns or--I don't know--put them somewhere where they couldn't be easily looted? I--I don't mean to put you on the spot maybe.

DAVIDSON: Yeah, it seems like that could happen, yeah. Well, I agree with you, yeah.

SIMON: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: But this is an area where, you know, guns are a part of life...

SIMON: Yes.

DAVIDSON: ...and there are many big stories with lots and lots of guns.

SIMON: Yeah. I wondered at the same time when emergency management officials are telling you about the state of things now if they're able to move around and what kind of efforts they can undertake.

DAVIDSON: I mean, they're basically moving out in increasingly concentric circles around downtown. There are a lot of trees down. I mean, almost every road has massive tree trunks across them, so the first step is just to get those trees out of the way to let other people through. And they haven't even finished that process in sort of the center of the city. So there are lots of parts of the city that have been unreached, and it's a pretty big county and a lot of very rural areas. So I think it's going to be days and days before every part is reached.

SIMON: Port Arthur was apparently hammered, and communications have been sketchy so it's difficult--at least it has been all morning to get a handle on the extent of the damage there. I wonder if you've heard anything more from Port Arthur.

DAVIDSON: The news continues to be grim. It's still sketchy reports. There are drainage crews trying to get the flooding down, but there is pretty bad flooding. There's sort of a little group of crescent of cities--Port Arthur and Natchez and Groves and Bridge City, and all of them sound like they may well be flooded, really severe destruction. People are expecting the very worst there, and the crews are only just now able to reach it at all.

SIMON: Yeah, because they were somewhat removed away. I guess they actually at one point they had to get the emergency vehicles outside of teh city because they were afraid of them being flooded in and unable to move and stranded there.

DAVIDSON: Exactly. All of the fire trucks, ambulances, police cars were put on a Navy ship in the port of Beaumont; others--well, many of them were tehre and then others were driven very far inland. So it's a several hour process. Actulaly, in the middle of the worst of teh hurricane, the mayor of Beaumont went out because they needed a city official to allow the boat to begin unloading the emergency vehicles.

SIMON: He had to sign a document or something or...

DAVIDSON: Yeah, he had to--I think it was verbal, but he had to be tehre. And but they are out now and moving to Port Arthur.

SIMON: Well, NPR's Adam Davidson in Beaumont, thanks very much.

DAVIDSON: Thank you.

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