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Rita ravages region near state line

But Texas, Louisiana report no deaths in hurricane's aftermath




Gulf Coast

CAMERON, Louisiana (CNN) -- Towns near where Hurricane Rita made landfall have had all but a handful of buildings destroyed, including nearly all homes in Cameron, Holly Beach and Creole, officials said Sunday.

Though less destructive than Hurricane Katrina, Rita's extensive damage became evident a day after the storm struck Saturday morning near the Texas-Louisiana border with 120 mph winds.

Along the state line, Louisiana's Cameron Parish was under as much as 15 feet of water, and thousands of homes were destroyed, said Freddie Richard, the head of emergency preparedness for the parish of 10,000 residents. (See video on Cameron residents' resilience -- 2:18)

About 45 miles south of nearby Lake Charles, every home was destroyed in the town of Holly Beach, Richard told CNN.

In the parish seat of Cameron, 90 percent of homes were destroyed, he said.

In Creole, 70 percent of residences were destroyed, with little more than the courthouse and an elementary school still standing, according to Richard. (City-by-city impact)

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen told CNN that no deaths had been reported in Louisiana, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry reported no storm-related deaths in his state.

But a Rita-spawned tornado killed one person in Mississippi, and 24 people died Friday when a bus carrying evacuated nursing home residents caught fire and was ripped by explosions on Interstate 45 south of Dallas.

Water in Lake Charles was receding Sunday, revealing buildings smashed to bits.

"The lake has risen higher than I've ever seen in my lifetime," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. But, he added, "Everyone who wanted to got out." (See video of hard-hit area in Rita's aftermath -- 2:29)

Lake Charles Police Chief Donald Dixon said "sporadic" looting had taken place and will likely increase as food and water run out.

The city has no power, no sewer system, no open stores or gasoline stations, he said, while downed trees and power lines make the city "very unsafe."

But he vowed to protect the property of people who evacuated. About 15 people were arrested for looting, including some at an adult video store.

Lake Charles and surrounding Calcasieu Parish, on the Texas-Louisiana state line, were closed Sunday to returning residents because of damage to roads and infrastructure.

City and parish officials have set an October 3 target date for allowing residents to return, planning to let them return in stages, with business owners being allowed back earlier.

Farther west, in Port Arthur and Sabine Pass, Texas, officials were conducting house-to-house searches for victims or survivors, Port Arthur Mayor Oscar Ortiz said.

Ortiz was among many locals whose homes were destroyed. "It's all gone," he told CNN.

He said two refineries appeared to be leaking gasoline. Boats and ships were tossed onto roadways by the storm surge, and oil rigs ripped loose from their moorings had drifted ashore, he said.

"We've got a lot of damage," he said.

Steady return to Texas

Rita's approach prompted the evacuation of more than 3 million people from the Louisiana coast westward to the Texas cities of Houston and Galveston, triggering 15- to 20-hour traffic jams on some Texas roads.

But residents of the Texas Gulf Coast made a steady return to their homes Sunday, with authorities encouraging workers in key industries -- such as oil refineries and gasoline stations -- to return as quickly as possible.

But Perry said others who are safe and have food should "stay put."

"Don't come back into southeast Texas today," said Perry, who went on a helicopter tour of damaged areas on Sunday.

Perry said preliminary estimates of the damage in Texas exceeded $8 billion, a sum he predicted would be paid "fully" by the federal government.

The Houston area is home to a complex of refineries that process a quarter of the U.S. fuel supply. It suffered "a glancing blow at worst," Perry said.

"The most important part -- this time, other than the tragedy of the bus, there's been no loss of life from the actual hurricane," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

In Houston, officials divided the city into quadrants and asked residents to return to each section one at a time, beginning with the northwest. But there is no penalty for ignoring that request.

The top elected official in Brazoria County rejected that plan.

"I am not going to wait for our neighbors to the north to get home and take a nap before I ask our good people to come home," Judge John Willy said in a statement.

Bush visits

President Bush -- Perry's predecessor as Texas governor -- visited the stricken region Sunday after monitoring federal preparations and relief efforts from the headquarters of the U.S. military's Northern Command in Colorado.

Texas emergency operations director Jack Colley told his staff Sunday morning that about 1.1 million customers were without power in the state and that the Texas Air National Guard was coordinating the response.

Our basic goal, he said, is "really simple today -- food, water, ice and medical support to our communities."

Louisiana officials said Rita left 412,000 Louisiana customers without power, adding to the nearly 300,000 customers who remained powerless after Katrina.

Louisiana officials will ask Congress for more than $31 billion to rebuild and improve levees and major roadways damaged by the impact of two major hurricanes, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said.

"Louisiana has taken two tough hits in less than one month," Blanco said.

United front

Bush was sharply criticized for the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and some federal officials tried to deflect blame toward state and local authorities.

But Blanco and Bush presented a united front Sunday, with Blanco thanking the president for his involvement in relief efforts.

"I appreciate having him as a partner in this massive effort," she said. "This is not something that a small state like Louisiana can do by itself."

Bush was briefed on the response early Sunday at Randolph Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas.

He said whether and when the Department of Defense would become the lead agency in a disaster response would be a "very important question for Congress to consider." (Full story)

Search-and-rescue teams plucked more than 250 people from flooded homes or roadways Saturday and another 400 on Sunday, said acting FEMA chief R. David Paulison. (See video on rescues by air and sea -- 1:10)

Rita also caused a second round of flooding in New Orleans, but Allen said that would be addressed "much much sooner than the original flooding."

Rita overtopped by about 2 feet levees that had been provisionally repaired by sandbags from Katrina's damage, he said -- the day after the corps had pumped out as much of Katrina's water as it could with the city's fixed pumps.

Worst hit was the Lower 9th Ward -- the first section of New Orleans inundated by Katrina. Rita left standing water in other areas as well, he said, but in no area was it as deep as it had been after Katrina. (See video on repairing the levees again -- 3:21)

"We've just about got it under control," he said.

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