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57,000 Residents of Port Arthur Told to ‘Stay Away’

Hurricane Rita left the nation's fourth largest city, Houston, relatively unscathed as it passed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, but it did heavy damage in the cities of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Beaumont, Texas and the smaller city of Port Arthur, Texas, which was close to the direct path of the storm. VOA's Greg Flakus went to Port Arthur to check on the recovery effort and has this report.

Port Arthur is a ghost town.

This was once home to some 57,000 people, but now only a few remain.

A Salvation Army truck prowls the lonely streets providing drinking water to those left stranded here by the hurricane.

One of the stalwarts is Susan Adaway, who escaped with her husband to a wooded area farther inland the night of the storm.

"We got up at two o'clock in the morning and there were all these noises and it was trees.” she told us. “I am talking big, tall oak trees and they just fell on the porch and the back porch and just knocking everything. They were leaning just way over and when they did it was really scary, I mean it wasn't no picnic, it was really scary."

Susan and her husband, who works for the city, made their way back home and now she tends to her three dogs and waits for things to return to normal.

"There is no gas to go anywhere and then I heard they are not letting you in or out. I am having to do without a lot of stuff, but other people are worse off than I am, so I am just sticking it out. We are all in this together, so we will make it somehow, someway."

Many businesses were destroyed completely by the hurricane and merchandise exposed to the elements is quickly being ruined. With power lines down and most normal services weeks away from being restored, police are discouraging residents from returning.

That is a special hardship for small business owners, like the Sadruddins, a Pakistani family that ran a convenience store and gas station here.

While they were away, seeking shelter, someone broke in and caused more damage than the storm itself.

"They broke into the store and the glass was shattered. We just put wood on it, trying to cover the glass. Our roof is broken down from there. Our cigarettes are gone and everything is just a mess,” reported Anisa Sadruddin.

They secure the store the best they can and hope special police patrols will prevent further loss.

Crews from around the country are here now, working to re-establish electrical power and other basic services.

But, given the damage, authorities say it may take as long as four weeks before this city will be ready for its population to return.