Winds Continue Gusting Lake Charles, La.

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Lake Charles, La. took a hit from Hurricane Rita's eye wall; the winds and rain have caused quite a bit of damage, though refineries so far appeared to have come through the storm relatively unscathed.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Hurricane Rita surged on to the Texas-Louisiana coastline early this morning with winds up to 120 miles an hour. The storm soon weakened from a Category 3 hurricane and has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. The federal government is reporting no deaths and officials say the damage was not as serious as expected, but Rita will still bring heavy rains, dangerous winds and tornadoes as it moves northeast toward Arkansas. Rita's rains and storm surge flooded areas of New Orleans that were just drying out after Hurricane Katrina. Across the Gulf Coast, high winds downed trees, blew off roofs and fanned the flames of numerous fires. Flooding is widespread. Millions have lost power. The storm's eye made landfall in the southwest corner of Louisiana right near the Texas border. Wade Goodwyn of NPR is in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Hi, Wade.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

Hello, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Can you tell me what it looks like there?

GOODWYN: Well, it doesn't look great. Lake Charles took a hit from the eye wall and you can see that the high winds blew through here strongly. The downtown is fairly ripped up. Lake Charles is overflowing its banks. There are two casinos here. They have been torn from their moorings and tossed up against the storm wall, and trees have done the most damage, not just to power lines but to people's homes. We heard stories of people barely escaping with their lives when trees came crashing through their roofs.

And as we drove from Houston on Interstate 10, the closer we got to Lake Charles, the worse the devastation was. The refineries, as far as we could tell, they looked OK, but the roofs were off of churches. The roadside stands were all blown over. The fast-food places were destroyed. So it did take a bite out of this part of Texas.

ELLIOTT: What about water? Is there water in the roadway at all?

GOODWYN: There's water in the roadway but no water from the taps. So there's flooding in the low-lying areas. There are areas that get flooded when there are storms like this. We talked with the fire chief here in Lake Charles. They have not yet begun to send their people out in boats yet. The winds are still gusting to tropical storm here. The rain is pouring down. The whitecaps are on the lakes. So they can't get their people out there. So we don't know how many people are trapped yet.

ELLIOTT: You mentioned that Lake Charles has some oil refineries there. You said they looked OK. Is there a sense of if they're in operation or not?

GOODWYN: It's hard to tell. I mean, the few we passed, I could see the flares that were burning off the natural gas. They were still going. You know, these are structures the size of small cities. And if anything could withstand a Category 3 hurricane, these refineries could. I mean, they are very well built, but it's still too early to tell I think how badly they were damaged. I'm sure they suffered some damage.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Thank you, Wade.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure, Debbie.

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