Louisiana Governor Discusses Hurricane Damage

Debbie Elliott talks with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco about the challenges her state is facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. Blanco says Rita has "sorely complicated our efforts to recover from Katrina. It has impacted the entire coastline of Louisiana."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

We're joined now by the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.

Hello, Governor.

Governor KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO (Louisiana): Hello, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Hurricane Rita is obviously another major setback for your state after Hurricane Katrina. Do you have any sense yet of this storm's impact?

Gov. BLANCO: Yes. Hurricane Rita has thoroughly complicated our efforts to recover from Katrina. It has impacted the entire coastline of Louisiana. Every community from southeast to southwest Louisiana is now receiving floodwaters, citizens who never have seen floodwaters in their homes before are now experiencing flooding in places like--in some places like Vermillion parish. Even places--we knew that the low-lying places would receive floodwaters, but there are floodwaters in other areas as well.

We are working feverishly, but one of the things that we've managed to do is maintain a communications network with our first responders and we're able to deploy help to them. But the winds are still blowing. In some places, there is still considerable rain. It's very hard to get assistance out to them and we're asking our citizens corps to be very careful as to the timing of deploying boats and such things. As long as there are high winds, it remains very dangerous.

ELLIOTT: We all remember how during Hurricane Katrina, there was a massive search-and-rescue effort because of the thousands of people who did not evacuate. You were very serious telling people to get out ahead of Rita. Did they take your warning and are people out or do you still have people stranded?

Gov. BLANCO: Well, just as in Katrina, we gave very stern, clear warnings just urging people, begging people, ordering people to get out. We did the very same thing for Hurricane Rita. Many, many people did evacuate, but always--we know always there are some who did not. And some did not expect or, you know, anticipate floodwaters coming into their homes. They weathered the storm, but it's the aftermath of the storm. Now no matter how many times we told them that they could expect flooding, some people chose to stay in. So we're in the middle of search-and-rescue operations.

It's vastly different from the urban areas of Orleans and St. Bernard that kind of mesh into one intense urban area. As St. Bernard moves out it gets more urban. Here, you know, we're talking about more rural areas. It's spotty, you know, so we know of families here, families there. Most of the people in the low-lying areas did leave; some did not. So here we are and this is rather routine for our hurricane search-and-rescue operations and our hurricane response.

ELLIOTT: Briefly, you know, just how on earth will your state begin to recover from these two massive storms?

Gov. BLANCO: It is very hard to anticipate the length of time that it will take us now. We have even more families now displaced from their homes. I'm reorganizing our whole state government and I'm asking the federal government to join me in the big recovery effort. We need to get ahold of our families and wrap them around with the comprehensive services, both from the federal level, from private organizations as well as state and local organizations. I think we've got to address first things first and the one thing that most families are going to be very concerned about is where they're going to live. How they're going to re-establish themselves. And so housing--the housing crisis is greater than ever before because we never resolved enough housing locations for the Katrina evacuees. Now we've got Rita.

ELLIOTT: Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, thanks.

This is NPR News.

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