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Update From Plaquemines Parish

WDSU | September 4, 2005

According to Maj. John Mary, nobody is being allowed inside Plaquemines Parish.

Mary said he has not seen a single member of the Red Cross and only one person from FEMA.

West Pointe a la Hache is gone. The East Bank is seriously damaged.

The parish is self-sufficient at this point, but there are no working services and it will likely remain that way for months.

Mary said he is seeing military members who are -- quote -- “clueless” about what is going on. He said his office is starting to get the military crews up to date.

When the parish does finally open, a deputy will escort people in so they can get their basics and then they will be escorted out.

Plaquemines readied to be alone

Southernmost parish mostly inundated by waters from river and Gulf

Plaquemines Parish officials knew if a big hurricane ever hit here, they would be on their own for awhile.

"We approach it that way," said Parish President Benny Rousselle. "We approach it that we have to do it on our own."

Although federal or state help is needed for supplies, so far, Plaquemines Parish officials seem to be making it work.

Rousselle said it's all because people who live in Plaquemines Parish know the dangers and train to respond to hurricanes.

"We plan for this all year long," he said. "I've evacuated this parish a couple of times already."

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Anyone who was willing to help was deputized Friday, and even people who had been pulled off their boats in Empire the day before were out helping the parish move tug boats and equipment the next day.

"We have no looting going on. We have no gunfire, and we're getting the water out," said Sheriff Jiff Hingle. "I just think we're much better organized and using our resources better."

It had been a long week for officials who are running short of gasoline and diesel, the two things that are needed to operate heavy equipment, drainage pumps and the many boats sheriff's deputies need to patrol the now-underwater parish.

Rescue boat patrols started about 2:30 p.m. Monday while the winds were still at 40 or 50 miles per hour, Hingle said. Five air boats were launched and came back with 51 people on their first trip. By the end of the day Friday, no more refugees were being brought in, and anyone left on their boats in hard hit areas were told to get out. Sheriff patrols and stations in the lower part of the parish were instituted to help keep looting and other problems to a minimum.

"Our biggest problem is that we have no communication," Hingle said. "If I want to talk to him and he's across the street, I have to drive over there. If I'm trying to reach a deputy that is 50 miles away, I can't do it."

Although the challenges of getting a parish running again after a storm like Katrina are daunting, the people of Plaquemines Parish for the most part are pulling together with their combined resources to make it work.

Rousselle said he's heard people say that Plaquemines Parish won't recover or rebuild after this storm. He disagrees.

"We will rebuild the parish, but it will take some time," Rousselle said.

As of Friday evening, the parish had received no federal or state supplies but were still able to keep the kitchen running and provide generators for necessary centers. The only aid they reported receiving is from New Iberia Parish, which sent over trucks of ice, water and generators.

That evacuees were being bused to other parts of the state and no one was being let into the parish without authorization of the parish president or sheriff helped the recovery situation.

"The problem is everyone wants to get home," Hingle said. What people don't realize is the extent of the damage and that the area has no services -- no electricity, no running water except parts of Belle Chasse, and medical attention is scarce, he said.

The no-entrance policy includes evacuees from New Orleans.

Friday afternoon, Rousselle said the parish was being asked to accept New Orleans evacuees. He said he was told they would be flown into the naval base and then put on airplanes to be flown out, and in no way would they be bused through the parish.

An angry Hingle and Rousselle said that the parish has received no assistance from state, federal or nonprofit agencies and that it was too much to ask to have Plaquemines Parish officials take care of other parishes' problems as well.



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