Rita Rakes Key Oil Town of Port Arthur

About 95 percent of the population of Port Arthur, Texas, left before Hurricane Rita made a direct hit on the town. Officials are assessing property damage and checking on the town's numerous oil refineries.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Federal, state and local officials in Texas and Louisiana fanned out today to help survivors of Hurricane Rita and to assess the damage from the storm. One death was reported in Mississippi when a tornado spawned by Rita overturned a mobile home. In Texas, Houston and Galveston, were largely spared and preliminary reports indicated that oil refineries in that area were not seriously damaged. Along the Gulf Coast to the east where Rita's eye made landfall as a Category 3 storm, there were early reports of damage to some refineries. NPR's Adam Davidson is in Port Arthur, Texas.

Adam, where exactly are you now? What's going on?

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Well, I'm at the Holiday Inn, which is the only really institution open right now. This has become the police command headquarters, so I'm surrounded by the Port Arthur Police and state police as well. They're--the police station is uninhabitable right now.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. And what is going on at the command center? What kind of operations are emanating from there?

DAVIDSON: They're still in the very initial stages. They haven't reached a lot of Port Arthur. There's a lot of flooding. There are trees down on pretty much every block. There are lots of power lines down, phone poles down, so they're having a really hard time just getting a sense, getting an assessment. They've been trying to get a helicopter up to fly over and it's been too windy, so they're hoping to do that very soon.

HANSEN: What have you seen of the town today?

DAVIDSON: I have driven around quite a bit, and there is a fair amount of destruction. As the mayor told me, pretty much every building suffered some damage, although a lot of them suffered only superficial damage--signs blown off, a few windows blown out--but several buildings were destroyed. A big bank building downtown was destroyed, the Super Wal-Mart had its roof blown off. Everyone here is saying this is far and away the worst thing they've seen in Port Arthur in anyone that I've talked to's history.

HANSEN: Now did most of the residents heed the evacuation warnings and get out of town?

DAVIDSON: Yes. As far as they can tell, more than 95 percent got out. They're not quite sure how many are left. It's in the hundreds, maybe in the thousands. They have not found any injured or dead yet, but again, they haven't seen most of the city, so they really don't know, and the most damaged area over by Sabine River and the Sabine Pass, they just can't get there at all. There's just too much flooding and too many trees down, so that's what they're most scared about.

HANSEN: And how are emergency workers dealing with the storm damage at this point?

DAVIDSON: They're very proud of what they've accomplished. They say that they've cleared a lot of debris. They're getting into more and more areas. They're actually responding to the small number of 911 calls that are coming in, mostly people who are concerned about their houses or don't have enough gas to get out of town. Their focus now is public safety. They just want to keep people out. They have arrested a handful of looters and just want to make sure that other people don't come in, so they're blocking all the roads into town and trying to keep the city safe.

HANSEN: And briefly, Adam, any idea when people can actually return?

DAVIDSON: They're saying at the very earliest a week from now, maybe longer. They were just told that they won't have power for at least a month most likely in a lot of the city, and they just feel like they're so stretched at this point just taking care of the emergencies, they just don't want a whole lot of people to have to deal with, so they don't want anyone here for quite a while.

HANSEN: NPR's Adam Davidson in Port Arthur, Texas.

Adam, thanks a lot.

DAVIDSON: Thank you, Liane.

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