Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish Braces For Gustav

Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish was put under a state of emergency Thursday night in preparation for tropical storm Gustav. Michel Claudet, president of Terrebonne Parish, criticizes the federal government's response to their pleas for help.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's official. Forecasters say Tropical Storm Gustav is now a hurricane. It's projected to make landfall in the U.S. by Tuesday morning. Right now it's headed for Louisiana, near Morgan City and Houma.

Some evacuations have already begun in Louisiana. Broader voluntary evacuations are expected to begin tomorrow in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Mandatory evacuation orders are likely on Sunday.

Southwest of New Orleans, in Houma, the president of Terrebonne Parish, Michel Claudet, is preparing for the worst.

Mr. MICHEL CLAUDET (President, Terrebonne Parish): Right now, unfortunately, Terrebonne Parish is a target. In fact, the last updates from the National Weather Service showed it coming in right around Terrebonne by the Atchafalaya Bay, which is directly to the west of us, and if that were the case, we're actually on the worst side of the storm.

BLOCK: I've been looking at those same maps, and it does look like it's headed right in your direction.

Mr. CLAUDET: Yes, ma'am. And please understand one of our problems that we have, and we've been begging the federal government since the early '90s for our Morganza to the Gulf Project, which is a system of hurricane levees; we have a hundred and almost twenty million dollars of public and state funds dedicated to that project that we have been unable to put to work because we were not to begin on the authorization, have to restudy, re-look at it, and our hands have been tied because of this bureaucratic nightmare.

BLOCK: So you're worried about those levees.

Mr. CLAUDET: Oh, yes, ma'am. It's unconscionable that as important as we are to the entire nation because of oil and gas supplies and how we have sacrificed for years in this area, and now when we're being attacked by the Gulf of Mexico that they won't come to our assistance.

Now, if we were attacked by guns or people with bullets, then they'd be here in a second, but we have Mother Nature that's coming in, and we are the most populated, unprotected area in the state of Louisiana.

BLOCK: If you do order an evacuation, what are the arrangements for getting people out of there if they don't have their own transportation?

Mr. CLAUDET: This is what's going to happen. We have a staging center I our civic center. We would use approximately 130 school buses for the people who want to leave, plus probably about another 25 from the state. And right now with this track to the storm it appears certain that Terrebonne will be evacuated.

But it's still so far out that it can change in a million directions. And the problem we have is with the cost of gas, the cost of groceries, the cost of utilities right now, the poor guy on the street, where they're not working, they're not getting paid, and then if they have to relocate their families and try to find something or get a hotel room, this becomes a very expensive process.

BLOCK: You don't want to leave too early, but you certainly don't want to leave too late.

Mr. CLAUDET: No, ma'am. We're being pushed by the state to make certain that we are out. And right now, based upon the information we have, it could potentially be a three, and we're being mandated to evacuate them.

Now, if in fact, the storm does come as the track that's presently in existence, we'll be thankful that all of the people got out and got out early. I just think that I could've pulled the trigger to do that later in the game. The problem is, sometimes if you pull it too soon, there are people who are going to say, well, they're just overreacting.

You know, right now we will get out because I will certainly, with all the rules that are being placed right now, I will not put the people of Terrebonne Parish in harm's way.

BLOCK: Well, Michel Claudet, best of luck to you this weekend and into next week.

Mr. CLAUDET: Thank you, ma'am.

BLOCK: Michel Claudet is president of Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana.

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