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Assessing Houston-Area Damage

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So as all this continues, a big question will be what to do with all the people who are being displaced by floodwaters. We're joined now by NPR's Debbie Elliott. She's in Beaumont, Texas, which is east of Houston. Debbie, thanks so much for joining us.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Oh, glad to be with you.

MARTIN: So the storm is causing problems well outside of Houston. Can you give us some sense of the scope of this?

ELLIOTT: You know, the scope of this is just remarkable. If you look at Texas, it's stretching from San Antonio down to the coast and then all the way to the Louisiana line and then into Louisiana. And it's also multifaceted. You've got the flood. You've got the rising waters, which is the crisis today. You've also got wind and structural damage that people are trying to recover from on the coast. You know, you've got all these things going on at once. Plus, you've got this logistical nightmare of how to rescue people right now. You know, the 911 system is under strain.

You've got volunteers, what they used to call the Cajun Army over in Louisiana, we saw, you know, happening when they had a flood last August, where people are coming out and trying to rescue people from their homes, just average people who might have a boat. Well, once they get somebody rescued, you've got to get them to high ground. And then once the people are on high ground, you've got to figure out a way to get the people from the ground to a safe place, to a shelter. And they're having challenges of their own. So this is just really a crazy situation. More than 250 roads - major roads and highways are now basically under water. They're like rivers.

MARTIN: Can we talk a little bit more about Louisiana? We've been focusing on Texas for most of the day and much of the program here today, but as you alluded to, Louisiana officials are also concerned. Can we talk a little bit more about what the concern is there?

ELLIOTT: You know, again, it's the flood. And it's the fact that people might think, hey, that storm is over there in Texas, it's not going to affect us, when these outer bands of rain have been hitting Louisiana for several days now. I was in Lake Charles this morning before I came to Beaumont, and the bayous and the canals and the creeks, they're full. And there are places where the water's starting to come up near roadways. The southwest - the extreme southwest corner of Louisiana, the coastal areas there have already evacuated. People have left because they know that this is coming. Even in New Orleans, people are on watch and on wait because there, the city's pump and drainage system is not working at full capacity. So one outer band that dumped a whole lot of rain at once could strain the system.

MARTIN: So, Debbie, we have about a minute left. And because you've covered a lot of disasters, I just wanted to ask you to spend this last minute here talking about, what are some of the things that are going to happen now that we should be thinking about in the days ahead?

ELLIOTT: Well, you know, once you move from this search-and-rescue effort, it's time to take care of people's basic needs. They've lost everything. They're going to need to be clearing houses for clothing, diapers, medical supplies, all the things that have been now soaked that you need to just function every day - soap, you know, wash cloths. And the relief organizations are pretty good at doing that. But right now, with the rain still coming and no end in sight for the next several days, the question is going to be, how are they going to get this stuff in? And how are they going to start taking care of people so that they can start thinking about what is next, how to get, you know, to the recovery effort once the rain stops?

MARTIN: That is NPR's Debbie Elliott. She's in Beaumont, Texas, at the moment. Debbie, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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