Rita Rescuers Looking for People, Cattle

Hurricane Rita's death toll climbed to seven.


BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) -- Rescuers used skiffs to take flooded-out residents to safety along the hurricane-stricken Texas-Louisiana coast Monday, and the Army sent out Blackhawk helicopters to find thousands of cattle feared trapped in high water.

Hurricane Rita's death toll climbed to seven when the bodies of five people were discovered in a Beaumont apartment.

The five -- a man, a woman and three children -- apparently were overcome by carbon monoxide from a generator they were using after the hurricane knocked out the electricity over the weekend, authorities said. The children's aunt discovered the bodies after going to check on the group.

Rita roared ashore Saturday morning, slamming the refinery towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, as well as Lake Charles, La., after an epic evacuation that emptied out a large swath of coastline and saved countless lives. Some 3 million people fled from Rita's path after seeing what Katrina did to New Orleans a month ago.

As of Sunday night, only two deaths had been blamed directly on Rita.

''As bad as it could have been, we came out of this in pretty good shape,'' said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called the absence of widespread fatalities ''miraculous.''

Hard-hit towns along the Texas-Louisiana coast began to pick up the pieces Monday: Rescuers pushed their way into once-inaccessible neighborhoods as the floodwaters dropped. Crews worked to clear roads of fallen trees so that utility workers could restore power to hundreds of thousands of people. Authorities began tallying the damage to rice and sugar cane fields, shrimp boats, refineries and ranches.

The Army used helicopters to search for stranded cattle in flooded-out southern Louisiana amid reports that more than 4,000 may have been killed.

''The big thing now is the focus on keeping the cattle alive,'' said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the military task force handling Katrina's aftermath.

Rita flattened towns and swamped fields in Cameron and Vermilion parishes, just east of the Texas line. Scores of cattle were seen swimming in the brown floodwaters. Ranchers on horseback herded cattle into truck-drawn corrals.

''Take all the coastal parishes, they all had cattle,'' said Bob Felknor, spokesman for the Louisiana Cattlemen's Association. ''My guess is we could be looking at least 15,000. It could be more than 30,000 in trouble.''

Elsewhere, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he asked the military to set up temporary medical facilities at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston because Houston's hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients evacuated from outlying counties and are ''at the breaking point.''

''I think people expected that they could go to Houston because it has a world-famous medical center, but it's at capacity and they've had to shut down some facilities,'' he said.

The more than 110,000 people living in Beaumont were urged not to return home, though, since water, electricity and sewer services will not be restored for weeks. Police blocked exits off interstate highways leading to the city.

In Lake Charles, National Guardsmen patrolled the town and handed out bottled water, ice and food to hundreds of people left without power. Scores of cars wrapped around the parking lot of the city civic center.

Dorothy Anderson said she did not have time to get groceries before the storm because she was at a funeral out of town. ''We got back and everything was closed,'' she said.

Mike Deroche, director of the Terrebonne Parish, La., Office of Emergency Preparedness, said that the floodwaters were going down in most areas and that the parish had nearly 9,900 homes that were severely damaged.

''We're just starting to get back into some areas that we haven't been able to get to,'' Deroche said.

In Chauvin, a steady stream of people were brought by small boats from the flooded sections of Terrebonne Parish. Some cried as they hauled plastic bags filled with their possessions out of the skiffs that carried them to dry land.

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