Small Texas Town Surveys Rita Damage

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Steve Inskeep talks with Mayor Brad Bailey of Groves, Texas, one week after the region was preparing for Hurricane Rita. Bailey says that the town has had a lot of cleanup work to do, but luckily escaped major flooding or chemical pollution.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One week ago, we spoke with Mayor Brad Bailey of Grove, Texas, population 15,000, who was preparing his city for a direct hit from Hurricane Rita. This week, Steve Inskeep called him again.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We last spoke to Mayor Bailey as he was about to leave town. As a Category 5 hurricane approached, he told us that anybody who did not leave should expect no help.

And, Mayor Bailey, it seems like an awful long time since we last spoke.

Mayor BRAD BAILEY (Grove, Texas): Yes, sir, it has. It seems like just one big day rolled into, you know, a week, I guess.

INSKEEP: And what does your town look like today?

Mayor BAILEY: You know, we came in about 9:00 the morning after the storm, and it literally looked like a bomb went off. You know, there was a lot of debris, a lot of green waste. So we had to go in and clear a bunch of streets just to make them passable. But on the positive side of that is we didn't have any storm surge.

INSKEEP: So the storm shredded trees. Did it also destroy homes?

Mayor BAILEY: Yes, sir. A lot of our homes--I mean, there were homes with just the roofs totally blown off, but a lot of our homes that have been destroyed or damaged severely have been trees actually penetrating the home, fallen through it. We did lose a home due to a radio tower, which was one of our older radio towers, that had actually fallen and cut a house right in half. I mean, I flew over it in a helicopter and it looked like a knife cutting through butter. I mean, it was amazing.

INSKEEP: You were worried about contamination from chemical plants and oil refineries in your area. Was there any of that?

Mayor BAILEY: No, sir. Out of the top 10 largest refineries, we have four of them, and they're ready to get back to work and start producing gasoline. And the hard part there is their workers--right now, there's a lot of them here, we have no power, so they're trying to commandeer hotels, the Ho Hotel(ph) and get workers in it and provide generation power to them. And we'll probably, here in the next couple days, is open back up, let citizens start coming back in, doing some assessments, grabbing some clothes and hopefully, you know, getting back out, give us a little bit more time to finish up what we need to do.

INSKEEP: Since the phones are working, I would imagine you must be getting calls from citizens saying, `Can I come back now?'.

Mayor BAILEY: Yes, sir. A lot of people have pets, they have--they're curious. I mean, it's human nature. You want to know. I mean, me and the chief and the assistant chief and city manager and our city marshal, we all drove in. I don't know which one of us wanted to go by their house first. I don't think anybody wanted to say it, but we all--you know, we all wanted to see what was happening. And we fared well and we're blessed that, you know, we got away with what we got away with. And, you know, I still think about those guys in Waveland, Mississippi, and, you know, to go home to a bare slab. So, you know, I was telling somebody the other day, you know, you complain about the shoes on your feet until you see the man with no feet.

INSKEEP: Well, Mayor, I want to ask one more question if that's all right.

Mayor BAILEY: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: I understand that after the winds subsided, you had the whirlwind of a presidential visit and you met with President Bush. What did you guys talk about?

Mayor BAILEY: You know what? That was one of the highlights and positive spots of this whole ordeal. We did about a 15-minute meet and greet, totally sincere, and he listened to us for two hours and 15 minutes. Now I appreciate him making an effort to come by and see us.

INSKEEP: You know how federal officials were criticized after the first storm, Katrina. How would you rate their performance in this one?

Mayor BAILEY: Just frank and honest, not much better. I mean, I'll be just honest with you. I don't think they had time to change anything. You know, we can finger-point all we want, that's not going to solve anything. We do need to go back and reassess what we've done. I know me and the fire chief, Dale Jackson, have both talked. We're going to do things different. We're gonna be smarter about things and, you know, we live and learn, and we're gonna get better.

INSKEEP: We've been talking once again with Brad Bailey. He is the mayor of Groves, Texas. Mayor Bailey, thanks very much.

Mayor BAILEY: Thanks.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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