- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CREOLE, La. (AP) — Hurricane Rita’s floodwaters receded along the Texas-Louisiana coast yesterday as rescuers pushed deeper into hard-hit bayous to pull out residents on skiffs, crews struggled to clean up the tangle of smashed homes and downed trees, and Army helicopters searched for up to 30,000 stranded cattle.

The death toll from the hurricane rose from two to nine yesterday.

Five persons — a man, a woman and three children — were killed apparently by carbon monoxide from a generator they were running indoors after Rita knocked out the electricity in their Beaumont, Texas, apartment. A Texas couple were killed by an uprooted tree that fell on their home.

While residents of the Texas refinery towns of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange were blocked from returning to their homes because of the danger of debris-choked streets and downed power lines, authorities in Louisiana were unable to keep bayou residents from venturing in on their own by boat to see whether Rita wrecked their homes.

“Knowing these people, most of them are hunters, trappers, farmers, they’re not going to wait on FEMA or anyone else,” said Robert LeBlanc, director of emergency preparedness in Vermilion Parish. “They’re going to do what they need to do. They’re used to primitive conditions.”

And many were finding that conditions were, in fact, primitive. Across southwestern Louisiana, many people found they had no home anymore.

Terrebonne Parish’s count of severely damaged or destroyed homes stood at nearly 9,900. An estimated 80 percent of the buildings in the town of Cameron, population 1,900, were leveled. Farther inland, half of Creole, population 1,500, was left in splinters.

“I would use the word destroyed,” Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said of Cameron. “Cameron and Creole have been destroyed except for the courthouse, which was built on stilts on higher ground. Most of the houses and public buildings no longer exist or are even in the same location that they were.”

Houses in the marshland between the two towns were reduced to piles of bricks, or bare concrete slabs with steps leading nowhere. Walls of an elementary school gymnasium had been washed or blown away, leaving basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling. A bank was open to the air, its vault still intact.

“We used to call this sportsman’s paradise,” said Gen. Honore, the Louisiana native assigned to take charge of federal relief efforts in the state after Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29. “But sometimes Mother Nature will come back and remind us that it has power over the land. That’s what this storm did.”

National Guardsmen patrolled the refinery town of Lake Charles and handed out bottled water, ice and food to hundreds of people left without power.

Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said its teams used small boats to rescue about 200 people trapped in their homes. In Chauvin, a steady stream of people were brought by small boats from flooded sections of Terrebonne Parish.

Texas put the damage from Rita at a preliminary figure of $8 billion.

At least 16 Texas oil refineries remained shut down after Rita, which came ashore early Saturday at Sabine Pass, about 30 miles from Beaumont. A refinery in Port Arthur and one in Beaumont were without power, and a second Port Arthur refinery was damaged and could remain out of service for two to four weeks.

“We didn’t dodge a bullet with Rita; we took a couple bullets in the legs with Katrina and Rita,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst with the Oil Price Information Service of Wall, N.J. “It’s still a significant loss, and it’s going to create some supply problems through at least mid-October.”

Early estimates were that Hurricane Rita will cost U.S. refiners about 800,000 barrels a day in capacity, on top of a of drop about 900,000 barrels a day because of Katrina. Mr. Kloza said the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline could again top $3.

In Washington, President Bush said the government is prepared to again tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease any new price spike at the pump, and he urged motorists to avoid unnecessary travel.

“We can all pitch in by being better conservers of energy,” Mr. Bush said.

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