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Rita Update: Port Arthur Struggles to Rebuild

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Rita Update: Port Arthur Struggles to Rebuild

Katrina & Beyond

Rita Update: Port Arthur Struggles to Rebuild

Rita Update: Port Arthur Struggles to Rebuild

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Alex Chadwick talks with Roger Cowles, editor of the Port Arthur News, about relief efforts for Hurricane Rita victims along the Texas Gulf Coast. Port Arthur was near the bulls-eye of the hurricane as it came ashore, and much of the town remains in ruins.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Five days after Hurricane Rita hit the Texas-Louisiana border, local people complained they're not getting the aid they need. Complaints about the relief are familiar: police and fire departments overwhelmed, people abandoned, forced to fend for themselves, the Federal Emergency Management Agency not helping enough. Joining us from Port Arthur, Texas, is Roger Cowles. He's editor of the Port Arthur News.

Roger, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

And just tell me about local conditions there, because what I read makes it sound pretty miserable just in terms of the weather.

Mr. ROGER COWLES (Editor, Port Arthur News): Well, it is pretty miserable. It has been very hot, unseasonably hot. It was 101 degrees yesterday; will be hot again this morning, but relief is on its way. There's a cold front coming through Texas. We're hoping to knock about 15 or 20 degrees off of this heat by tomorrow.

CHADWICK: Do you have power? Do you have air conditioning?

Mr. COWLES: I'm sleeping at home in pretty hot conditions. It's amazing how wet you can get very quickly in this muggy heat.

CHADWICK: So generally, people at home do not yet have power restored.

Mr. COWLES: No. Without a generator, there is no power in this town, probably in this county.

CHADWICK: How about conditions in terms of people returning?

Mr. COWLES: They are being kept out of the county by National Guard roadblocks and by the Department of Public Safety. State troopers are stopping people at checkpoints. You can't get off the highway. You can go through, but the exits are all blocked.

CHADWICK: Water? How about water?

Mr. COWLES: I do have water. I live in Groves, a suburb of Port Arthur. Port Arthur has water, though it's leaking out about as fast as the city can pump it. The mayor told me that they pumped 15 million gallons of water--I believe that was three days ago--that they had pumped that, which was more than their normal amount, but water pressure was extremely low because so much of it is running out of water mains that have been broken by trees that have blown over.

CHADWICK: How about that clearing of debris so people can at least drive through? How's that going?

Mr. COWLES: They have made great progress clearing that. You can drive anywhere in town now. There are still nails and things in the roads, so the flat tires are a hazard, but it's much easier to get around.

CHADWICK: I read a piece in the Houston Chronicle online edition today filed from Beaumont, Texas, that said, `Things are really bad here, and we think the people in Port Arthur are doing better than we are. Port Arthur's getting more attention.' So it sounds like there's kind of a hierarchy of place.

Mr. COWLES: From listening to the Port Arthur mayor, he may not agree with that assessment. Now the work on clearing the roads may have been more efficient in Port Arthur. I haven't driven around Beaumont much, so I don't know how to compare that. But I heard the mayor talking this morning about the problems he's having getting--oh, especially fuel supplies from FEMA to keep the police department on the road, to keep the fire department on the road, to keep the city workers out clearing away this debris.

CHADWICK: You're not getting emergency gasoline shipments?

Mr. COWLES: He is not getting the gasoline he needs.

CHADWICK: And what is FEMA saying about that?

Mr. COWLES: FEMA is telling him it's coming; they gotta go through their process. They have a staging area in Beaumont that--there is a bunch of stuff there, but it doesn't seem to be getting here.

CHADWICK: Is there a sense that this is because everyone is still trying to help out with Hurricane Katrina?

Mr. COWLES: I haven't actually heard people say that, but it's apparent that Katrina was a huge disaster and has sucked up a lot of emergency supplies, a lot of the effort from the federal government.

CHADWICK: Roger Cowles, editor of the Port Arthur News in Port Arthur, Texas.

Roger, thank you.

Mr. COWLES: You're quite welcome, Alex.

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