Rep. Boustany: Winds Hamper Efforts in Lake Charles

Debbie Elliott talks with Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) about the damage Hurricane Rita incurred on his district in Southwest Louisiana, including the heavily damaged port city of Lake Charles.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Republican Congressman Charles Boustany Jr. represents southwest Louisiana, including the port city of Lake Charles. We reached him this afternoon on his cell phone.

Hello, sir.

Representative CHARLES BOUSTANY Jr. (Republican, Louisiana): Glad to be with you. We are seeing finally a little bit of slowing of the winds down here, and we're going to go into search-and-rescue mode now.

ELLIOTT: Where are you right now?

Rep. BOUSTANY: I'm between Lafayette and Abbeville, which is in Vermillion Parish to the south, and Vermillion Parish is one of the coastal parishes which has had extensive flooding from the storm surge as well as some wind damage. And I'm going down to the emergency operation center over there to check things out and see what's going on. I've been in phone contact with them and a number of people have been stranded on their rooftops because of floodwaters, and so there are a number of boats, but the wind is still complicating that kind of recovery effort, so I'm going to see what else I can do to help them down there.

ELLIOTT: Do you have a sense of how many people were behind and how many people got out ahead of Rita?

Rep. BOUSTANY: Well, I have to say that in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, the evacuation was done in a very orderly fashion. It was done well in advance of the storm.

ELLIOTT: And those are the two parishes further to the west.

Rep. BOUSTANY: That's correct. Those are the ones that were hardest hit and I have to say that the local officials did a tremendous job. Vermillion Parish, which is the other coastal parish just to the east of Cameron, I think we had a few more--significantly more who stayed in their homes and we've had a significant storm surge there and that's where we have a number of people who are stranded.

ELLIOTT: Is there any notion of how long it will be before you have a good fix on what has happened in those parishes and how soon people might be able to get back to check on their property?

Rep. BOUSTANY: Well, I have to say that about an hour ago, we started the very beginning of the initial reconnaissance. The general who's heading up the National Guard here along with the head of Homeland Security for the Calcasieu Parish embarked down to the area to get a first-hand view. We still can't get helicopters into the air because the winds are too brisk and that's probably not going to be until tomorrow morning.

ELLIOTT: Lake Charles as well as Cameron and Calcasieu parishes in general, that area home to a lot of oil and gas industry, a lot of the chemical industry. Do you have any sense...

Rep. BOUSTANY: Right.

ELLIOTT: ...yet about how the damage is to those businesses?

Rep. BOUSTANY: We don't know the extent yet and that's something that's just getting started. There are 20 chemical refineries down in Lake Charles as well as two major oil refineries. We have a lot of pipelines for natural gas as well as oil in the area and that's going to be an ongoing project to determine what's going to happen. You know, with all that infrastructure there, that's one of the reasons that we have a good Homeland Security plan in place in Calcasieu and Cameron. So certainly we'll have hazmat teams going in. I think they've already been mobilized and, you know, a thorough assessment will need to be done.

I want to say also that down in Cameron Parish, we have one of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves at Hackberry, the small town of Hackberry. This houses about 217 million barrels of the 700-million-barrel oil reserves we have and it may be threatened. I don't have a damage assessment on it yet, and, you know, if this is compromised and we're talking about severe compromise to our energy security for our nation, we're certainly going to see spikes in oil and gas prices as a result, and we're talking about very important infrastructure down here as well as, you know, a major environmental concern.

ELLIOTT: Congressman Charles Boustany Jr., Republican congressman from Louisiana's 7th District, speaking with us on his way to Vermillion Parish, Louisiana.

Thank you for taking time for us, sir.

Rep. BOUSTANY: Thank you.

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