- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

LAKE CHARLES, La. — Authorities here say it may be as late as Oct. 3 before residents are allowed to return to this city and the surrounding areas, and zeroed in on looting as a top priority in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

The main concern now is protecting evacuated homes, said Lake Charles Police Chief Donald D. Dixon yesterday. He said his officers have “zero tolerance” for looting.

“We own the streets and will continue to own the streets,” he said.

Police said they have made as many as 15 arrests since Rita hit, including one of a man carrying a shotgun on a downtown street.

Working under the guidance of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the chief military commander of the Hurricane Rita and Katrina recovery effort, local officials have closed all of Calcasieu Parish, which surrounds Lake Charles.

Donnie Rogers, 50, wore a cowboy hat as he stood in front of a small house near downtown Lake Charles yesterday, saying he had no tolerance for looting.

“Hey, buddy, this is southwest Louisiana. You loot, we shoot,” said Mr. Rogers, as he pulled a handgun from the cab of his pickup truck. He kept the gun in its holster while he showing it to a reporter and photographer.

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said authorities are blocking the return of residents for “safety reasons.”

With no sewerage, drinking water, or electricity when it gets dark at night, “we got nothing,” he said, adding that residents being evacuated and out of the way is needed so utility crews can fix downed power lines and remove trees from the parish’s roads.

While the damage here is significantly less severe than that caused by Katrina along the Mississippi coast one month ago, dozens of roofs were blown off in neighborhoods around Lake Charles and across Calcasieu Parish.

Paths were cut through trees blocking several roads yesterday, but the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles remained closed, after a barge slammed into it during the hurricane.

A dozen mangled small boats were crammed against a railroad trestle on the north side of the interstate bridge, although the bridge itself appeared to have no major structural damage.

A stunned-looking James Landreneau, 30, was picking through the rubble yesterday afternoon at his “Ultimate Baseball and Softball” batting-cages business, trying to salvage pitching machines and other equipment that looked like it might still work.

“It just collapsed,” he said.

Gen. Honore arrived in Lake Charles by helicopter yesterday afternoon. As he met with National Guard authorities at the city’s emergency-response headquarters downtown, Chief Dixon was outside, saying police had already gone “block to block” and checked the city for survivors and victims.

“There was such a great evacuation that we just haven’t had those problems,” he said, adding that after the violent chaos that occurred after Katrina in New Orleans, his police force had prepared for a possible looting situation here.

He said that several people had been arrested with guns, and that a “weapon was discharged” when police arrested the individual with the shotgun, but gave no other details of the incident.

Scattered residents complained yesterday that authorities were not allowing people to return to the city. “They’re telling people not to come here, not to use their own saws to cut the trees out of the way,” said Rayna Shawa, 44. “That’s wrong.”

Nevertheless, chain saws could be heard intermittently in the city. “The American way is to help yourself,” Miss Shawa said. “That’s what this country was built on. If we don’t help ourselves, who’s gonna come help us?”

James Simpson, 40, stood outside the emergency-response headquarters with a sign calling on the city’s mayor to “Let Our People Come Home.”

“I think we could get a lot more done if people were let in here,” he said. “We could get the roads clear in a few days.”

National Guard units were seen working to clear the streets in Lake Charles during the afternoon.

“We’re just doing the heavy cleaning, getting it off the roads so people can come in behind us,” said Staff Sgt. Ralph Halls, a Missouri National Guardsman whose engineering unit arrived in the city yesterday after spending the past three weeks in New Orleans.

Hal McMillin, Calcasieu Parish police chief, said parish residents likely wouldn’t be allowed to return until Oct. 3.

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