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Rita's aftermath

Editor's Note: CNN correspondents report back on what they are seeing in communities affected by Hurricane Rita.

Relief supplies in Vermilion Parish




Disasters (General)
New Orleans (Louisiana)

CNN's Lisa Goddard in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana
Posted: 6:35 p.m. ET

The Army and National Guard have quickly brought some relief supplies to towns along Highway 14 in Vermilion Parish which includes Abbeville and many flooded areas.

Six trucks filled with water, MREs and ice rolled into Gueydan around 1 a.m. Sunday. Cars have been lining up since with people picking up supplies for their families.

One woman here tells me that about 75 percent of residents in this town have either stayed or have come back. With no power and limited water, those people are starting to depend on these supplies.

Officials here say there are similar trucks and resources in the towns of Kaplan and Crowley.

Jefferson Parish buzzing

CNN's Adaora Udoji in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
Posted: 6:16 p.m. ET

Jefferson Parish is the busiest I have seen it in a month. Cars and trucks are breezing along Highway 90 west of New Orleans. They're backed up on exit ramps going in to Kenner and Metairie, Louisiana.

Today, people have somewhere to go. Stores are open -- at least a few. A battered Walgreens with half its windows boarded up had customers inside. They were coming out with bags in hand.

Next door at Wendy's, a long line of cars driven by hungry people are waiting at the drive-thru.

Outback Steakhouse is serving up steaks and potatoes.

Still, gas stations crushed by Hurricane Katrina, smashed grocery stores and decimated storage facilities and so many others sit nearby idle. They are a long way from recovering. But the people are coming back; traffic is steady.

All morning business owners have been pleading on the radio for employees to come back or opening their doors to new workers, promising top wages. They're anxious to get going on the clean-up. It's progress they can even put out those calls.

We've seen less going on in downtown New Orleans. Police cars are blocking exits on Interstate 10 because of scattered flooding. Interstate 10 ramps are blockaded by New Orleans police officers and cars. Scattered flooding has made sections impassable.

But Mayor Ray Ragin is hopeful that tens of thousands will be flowing back in by mid-week.

Costal flooding worries

CNN's Lisa Goddard in Vermilion County, Louisiana
Posted: 6:03 p.m ET

One man who flew over the town of Cameron in southwest Louisiana told me there is almost nothing left of the town, that it's nearly covered in floodwaters. That devastating flooding seems to have hit an area as wide as 150 miles or more.

A family from a town called Montague, which is in Terrebonne County south of New Orleans, says they saw floodwaters rushing into their home, which they also believe is under water.

People within 20 miles of the coast received some wind damage, but their greatest fears are about flooding on the coast and towns that officials haven't reached yet.

Surveying the damage with Gen. Honore

CNN's Randi Kaye in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Posted: 2:09 p.m ET

We just met up with Gen. Russel Honore when he landed in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He's the head guy for all humanitarian efforts in Louisiana.

He's touring the area by land and if the winds die down, he'll be surveying the area by air. We're along with him for the ride.

We got a briefing from him on evacuees and he told me 1,000 people were rescued from Cameron Parish in Louisiana. He said all the parishes along the coast are underwater.

When I asked him to compare Rita to Katrina, he said, "Rita was like a little girl compared to a big mean woman!" He added that Rita was a slap on the wrist.

We are now at the local emergency ops office. Honore is meeting the mayor.

There are trees down everywhere here. We are riding around in the general's "office," which is a 5-ton open-backed truck. We're hoping to survey the parishes with him in his other "office" ... a Black Hawk chopper soon.

Riding out Rita on the I-10

CNN's Chris Lawrence in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Posted: 1:08 p.m. ET

We met a family about 30 miles east of Lake Charles -- a mother, father and three kids ages 2, 4 and 5. They've been living out of a small U-Haul truck for a few days.

They got chased out of their home in New Orleans after Katrina. They went to Texas for a couple weeks and then came back to check on their home.

When Rita came, they tried to get away, but ran out of gas along I-10. They had to pull over because nothing was open and they had nowhere to go.

The father stayed up all night in the dark to protect his family. Five-year old Regan says it was dark and very scary. They're trying to reach their family in Texas, so they can come pick them up.

The mother tells us she's tired of running from hurricanes and doesn't want her kids' lives disrupted any more. She says they'll never go back to New Orleans.

Tension in Lake Charles

CNN's Lisa Goddard in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Posted: 1:04 p.m. ET

I got a close look at the enormous stress and tension in the hard-hit town of Lake Charles, when I pulled over at a strip mall on Ryan Street, one of the main roads.

A large grocery store with a warped sign -- I think it says "Market Basket" -- has a large open hole where two 8-foot-high windows were blown out. It's just a small jump over a 3-foot wall to get to stacks of cereal, goldfish crackers and candy.

Police were in front with three men and a woman in handcuffs. An officer told me the group had said they came to get diapers, but police weren't sure. They hadn't taken anything, but were inside when officers arrived.

Shortly after, the families of two of the men pulled up with children crying in their cars. The wife of one of the men asked what happened and then started reassuring her husband she would be OK even with him in jail. Then as the men were put in squad cars, she started screaming, "We need help! This wouldn't have happened if officials knew what they were doing. We need things to live on."

Police officers said the families still had their cars and could have, and should have, evacuated.

As I write this, the police are gone, but I see more than one car slowly passing the store with drivers looking inside.

Emergency potty training

CNN's Lisa Goddard in Beaumont, Texas
Posted: 12:34 p.m. ET

Before Rita, 3-year-old Cassandra Sandoval was working on using words and sentences. As the hurricane approached, her mom Annalya told me the family could not find diapers in any store. With just eight diapers left, and heading for what could be a very long hotel stay, Annalya says she and her husband had no choice but to potty train their daughter much earlier than planned.

Annalya herself is an amazing story, manning the desk at the Courtyard Marriott in Beaumont, Texas, for 18 and 20 hours straight.

As a radio reporter, I have fully embraced the windblown, low or no effort, no shower look. But with no sleep, no power and no running water (again not to mention no diapers for her daughter staying in the hotel) Annalya still managed to put on makeup and look like the perfect hotel manager.

Still no sign of missing family

CNN's Ed Lavandera in Abbeville, Louisiana
Posted: 12:28 p.m. ET

Search and rescue missions are underway again in Vermilion Parish.

There's still no sign of the missing woman and her three children I first started reporting about on Saturday night. Authorities are hoping she managed to escape the floodwaters on her own at the very last minute.

The family lives in a town right on the Gulf Coast called Intercoastal City. In the days leading up to the storm, the woman refused sheriff's deputies warnings to get out.

The last time authorities spoke with the family was Saturday morning as the floodwaters were rising. She called asking for help but by the time search and rescue teams made it to her home, they couldn't even find her trailer.

Holiday Inn houses makeshift jail

CNN's Gary Tuchman in Port Arthur, Texas
Posted: 12:03 p.m. ET

There was concern if Hurricane Rita hit Port Arthur or directly to the west, that there would be 20 feet of water. The storm jogged east so the flooding is relatively sporadic. The damage is not catastrophic.

Only one hotel is open. Everyone was told to evacuate. Some stragglers are still inside the Holiday Inn, though. What's interesting is that in addition to the sign that says, "Good Luck," there's a rather unusual mix of people at the hotel.

It has become a police station because the police station was damaged from the hurricane. In addition to the police, the people that need housing and the media, there's also a makeshift jail in the Holiday Inn.

'After Katrina, it just doesn't look so bad'

CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Sulphur, Louisiana
Posted: 11:48 a.m. ET

I've been driving with an urban search and rescue team doing an assessment of the damage here. There are a lot of trees down. In some parts, the smell of pine is really overwhelming. Some of the trees have fallen into roofs.

A lot of power lines are down. Some people in the neighborhood appear to have ridden this out. The one thing they want is ice. A lot of them are out already cleaning up the debris in their yards.

If I'd seen this six months ago, I would have told you this was pretty serious damage, but after Katrina, it just doesn't look so bad.

We stopped and talked to a local police official a short time ago. The police official told us he thought 90 percent of the residents here had evacuated.

This search and rescue team is going around looking for people who might be in serious trouble. At this point in time, they have not been asked to go in and extricate anybody. The situation appears to be under control, but they are still looking.

There are still neighborhoods that haven't been seen yet. We're told that there may be serious damage outside the city limits.

Interstate 10 'looks like a military staging ground'

CNN's John King in Lafayette, Louisiana
Posted: 10:32 a.m. ET

Interstate 10 westbound toward Lake Charles from the east looks like a military staging ground.

As we drove eastbound Saturday night, more than 20 ambulances and other medical vehicles were streaming toward the Lake Charles area in a convoy.

Later, another convoy of utility repair trucks rolled by. We also encountered 10 or so small search and rescue boats pulled over to the side of the highway on the eastbound side, just past Lake Charles. (See video of the damage along Interstate 10 -- 2:14)

Hotel rooms are impossible to come by. We spent the night in dorm rooms at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It was spartan to say the least.

Also staying in the dorms, more than 30 (from a rough head count in the lobby) utility repair works from Florida who were en route to the most heavily damaged storm areas still without power.

They hit the road not long after daybreak.

Riding out the storm in Port Arthur

CNN's John King in Lafayette, Louisiana
Posted: 10:22 a.m. ET

Not many people stayed in Port Arthur, Texas, to ride out the storm. We encountered a handful who all said they likely would evacuate next time a storm approaching the magnitude of Rita was headed their way.

"It was horrible, just horrible," Harold Hackett told us after we found him leaving his heavily damaged home and pushing an old bicycle through waist deep waters in his neighborhood. "The whole house was shaking," said Hackett. "At 3 or 4 o'clock the wind just busted all the windows out at once."

Mark Phillips planned to evacuate after helping neighbors board up their homes -- but he couldn't find gas. Several trees fell against his house and on the property. His plans for Sunday included using a chainsaw to begin the cleanup task.

Joseph Reynolds told us he could not afford to evacuate and was furious his landlord refused to board up the windows of the one story row of low-income apartments.

He had no power and no plumbing. The smell of backed up plumbing and sewage was overwhelming.

"People like me just don't count is what it comes down to," Reynolds told us.

Assessing the damage in Lake Charles

CNN's Jason Carroll in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Posted: 9:43 a.m. ET

I'm standing on the shores of Lake Charles. We certainly couldn't do this yesterday. We can see pylons in the lake. None of those were visible yesterday because the lake waters were just too high. The water is returning to normal levels at this point.

We checked out downtown Lake Charles on our way in early this morning and, fortunately, much of the floodwaters there have receded, as well. It certainly didn't look like that yesterday. I saw a lot of damage and a lot of flooding in pocketed areas downtown.

We saw downed trees and power lines. We also saw partly collapsed buildings and some buildings that had completely collapsed. Most of the significant damage we saw was at the Lake Charles regional airport. The main terminal roof collapsed under hurricane force winds. (Watch video of the damage in Lake Charles -- 2:34)

We checked in with emergency officials early this morning about what's going to be happening today. The day shift had started already and emergency crews are trying to get a more accurate assessment of just how bad the damage is.

Lake Charles police are being inundated with people who are trying to reach loved ones. They're going to compile a master list of people who they are going to get in contact with.

If police run into anyone who needs help and can no longer stay in their home, they'll bring them to the civic center and then they'll put them on buses that are headed to Menden, Louisiana.

Search and rescue begins in Louisiana

CNN's Ed Lavandera in Abbeville, Louisiana
Posted: 6:19 a.m. ET

There's a disturbing story emerging from the devastating flooding in Vermilion Parish. Search-and rescue teams will be looking for a woman and her three children in the floodwaters on Sunday.

The family lived in a trailer in a town called Intercoastal City. It's at the very bottom of Louisiana and in a highly vulnerable area.

The Vermilion Parish sheriff told me Saturday night that for three days his deputies went to the woman's home begging and pleading for her to evacuate. They say she refused. On Friday night, deputies made one last attempt. This time they asked her if she would at least let her children go with them. She refused. (Watch Ed Lavandera's report on search and rescue efforts in Louisiana -- 1:56)

When the floodwaters started rising, the sheriff says the woman called for help. Rescuers couldn't reach her home by boat because the waters were too choppy. By the time helicopters flew over area where the woman lived, they couldn't even find her trailer.

Possible natural gas leak

CNN's Ed Lavandera in Abbeville, Louisiana
Posted: 6:08 a.m. ET

Officials here say they're concerned about a leak that is bubbling up from the floodwaters along the Henry Hub natural gas pipeline.

I was told that when officials flew over Vermilion Parish Saturday afternoon, they noticed what they suspect is natural gas bubbling up out of the water. They think the pipeline has ruptured.

The emergency management coordinator in this area says he's not sure how hazardous this situation might be or if any nearby communities will be affected.

As of late Saturday, there were preparations being made to send in a hazardous materials team to survey the site.

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