Katrina & Beyond


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Along the Gulf coasts of Texas and Louisiana today, authorities are getting a clearer picture of Hurricane Rita's impact, and they're working to restore essential services, like water and sewer, so evacuees can return home. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry asked residents who had fled to stay put for now. Tanker trucks are restocking gas stations that ran dry when an estimated two million people took to the highways to escape the storm. Perry flew over Beaumont and other hard-hit areas today. He told CBS "Face the Nation" that the early assessment of the state's oil and gas facilities was hopeful.

(Soundbite of "Face the Nation")

Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): It appears that we dodged the bullet on the petroleum and the chemical industry and our refining industry. You know, a lot of residential homes, commercial damage, roofs, but no major type of structural damage like you saw over in Mississippi.

ELLIOTT: Like the governor, many storm victims are evaluating the damage by Hurricane Katrina standards. NPR's Alix Spiegel has this report from Port Arthur, Texas.

ALIX SPIEGEL reporting:

Tony Rose(ph) rode out the storm in his home on the west side of Port Arthur. And he says that his small wooden house was literally leaning from the pressure of the wind until about 1 AM Saturday morning, when everything suddenly fell silent. He's heard that the eye of the storm passed closer to Lake Charles but believes that the eye passed right over him as well.

Mr. TONY ROSE: I walked outside, and it was like the weather stopped like that, like the snap of a finger. And when I came out, I could see straight in the sky. And before that, it was--you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. I mean, it was like the dead of night. You could look right up in the sky. It was like a hole. You could see where it was dividing. It was so pretty. You could see everything all back over there.

SPIEGEL: Tony has spent the last day cleaning his home. His roof has some damage, and the garage was pushed off its cement block, but in general he says that things could have been a lot worse. He lives 10 blocks from Port Arthur's seawall, and his home would have been ruined if the wall hadn't held, but it did.

Mr. ROSE: This guy on the corner over here--Right?--the brick house, he didn't get no damage, none. And talking to people around, it was not bad. It's not bad.

SPIEGEL: But while Katrina-level disaster was averted, there's still a lot to do before the town gets back on its feet. Trees and power lines are down all over the city. There are areas of flooding, no electricity and no running water. Last night Mayor Oscar Ortiz lost his own home to a fire that was impossible to stop because the city had no services. This morning he looked tired but was trying to put on a good face.

Mayor OSCAR ORTIZ (Port Arthur, Texas): Well, I'm feeling torn between my city and my house. I can't do anything for my house because, you know, I got toa be here to command this thing. So I can't let the people of Port Arthur know how I really feel. That wouldn't help them any. A lot of them are trying to get back in town, and we're saying, `You can't come back in town.' And they're frustrated, and I understand that. They're mad at me. But I can't let them back in for their own safety. I mean, until we clear the roads, I mean, hardly even us can get through there.

SPIEGEL: The mayor says that it might take up to a month to clear roads and restore power, and until that time he's ordered residents of Port Arthur not to return. This has caused hard feelings because many want to assess the damage to their homes and begin the rebuilding process. Mayor Ortiz says that last night one resident cursed him out over his decision.

Mayor ORTIZ: Well, he says that he wanted to come in and see his house. I said, `It doesn't do you no good.' I said, `We have no water. We have no sewer. We have no electricity. We have no telephones. Why do you want to just come in here and get in our way?' Well, he was determined. I said, `Well, I'm just as determined to keep you out, you know, 'cause I'll have you arrested.'

SPIEGEL: How many residents will heed his warning will be determined in the days to come. Alix Spiegel, NPR News, Port Arthur.

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