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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 September 2005, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK
Town faces up to Rita challenges
By Verity Murphy
BBC News, Livingston, TX

A barge on the Trinity River, which broke its moorings during Hurricane Rita
The loose barge is presenting the authorities with a serious dilemma
Livingston has a population of 10,000, most of whom stayed put during the storm as Hurricane Rita was not expected to hit here.

Most homes are without power and have damaged roofs.

Police chief Clifton Dennis says there are an extra 6,000 people in the town, who fled here from Houston.

They want to go home, but there is a 15-mile (24km) traffic jam leading out of town.

Flooding risk

The only other route south passes over a bridge across the Trinity river, which was closed after it was hit by a barge.

Worse may be to come.

People are out there in the blistering heat and nobody is doing anything
Woman in Livingston

The town is by Lake Livingston, whose dam has been damaged and is dangerously close to breaking point.

To ease pressure on the dam, the authorities have to let water through into the river.

However, the barge that broke free in the storm is now resting against the highway bridge, and should water be let through to save the dam, the barge is likely to bring down the vital highway bridge.

If they do not, the dam will burst and terrible flooding will follow.

The barge's owner, local contractors and state and federal authorities are at the scene, trying to work out how to move the barge.

Extreme conditions

In town, many are afraid to join the traffic jam heading out of town, as they are low on gas and petrol stations are empty.

 Xigoli Agoba, Houston evacuee
Eight-day-old Xigoli Agoba is one of the many evacuees on the road
Zac Agoba is with his wife Mary and eight-day-old daughter, Xigoli.

They need to burn gas to keep the car cool for the baby, but now have just a quarter of a tank left.

Mary had a caesarean and her stitches have started to open and bleed.

"We think we are just going to try to find some shade and park up until the road clears, maybe after nightfall," Zac said.

Those already stuck in the queue are suffering in the extreme heat.

The Red Cross had been handing out ice, but they have now run out.

The traffic stretches as far as the eye can see and is barely moving.

In the queue were four prison buses with inmates sweltering behind closed, caged windows.


One woman, who said she had been sitting in traffic for hours, stopped at the Livingston police station to appeal for help.

Salvation Army worker and Texas State Troopers
The Salvation Army has stepped in to feed the emergency services
"People are out there in the blistering heat and nobody is doing anything," she said in tears.

"We took good care of those Louisianans, and now Texans have to go through this?"

But Livingston's authorities are already over-stretched.

Glen Goodwin from the Texas State Troopers said his officers have been working for 30 hours straight, trying to keep traffic moving and help those in distress.

None had even had time to visit the Salvation Army's emergency canteen that had been set up to feed all of the emergency services, instead food was being ferried out to where they were working.

George Johnston is the maintenance man for a Livingston old people's home.

He is scouring the town for electric fans and a generator - the air conditioning in the home is out, and the old people are struggling to cope in the heat.

But there may be hope on the horizon - the federal emergency agency Fema has been on the phone, promising an evacuation soon.

Ten critically ill patients from another nursing home have already been dispatched to Livingston's Memorial Hospital, where the staff has been working flat out since the hurricane hit.

"The ambulances have been coming in non-stop," Radiology nurse Donna Longino said. "The staff are sleeping in shifts and no-one has been able to go home check on their own families, there's just too many in need."

"The power outage has meant that people with heart problems and breathing difficulties who rely on oxygen or electrical equipment to get their medicine will simply die if they don't get here," she explained.

The hospital's single emergency generator had been all they had to rely on until a Fema team from North Carolina arrived with another industrial sized generator.

"I thank the Lord the team from North Carolina is here," Ms Longino said. "They have been a godsend."

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