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Louisiana Lawmakers Prepare to Act Once Katrina Subsides

As hurricane Katrina cut through southeastern Louisiana today, several Congressional district offices were evacuated while Pelican State lawmakers home during the August recess awaited more information in order to assess the damage and decide how best to approach the situation once the storm departs.

“The Congressman is playing it by ear,” spokesman Chris Paolino said of his boss, Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.). “We first need to wait for the storm to finish attacking and the winds to die down before making any firm decisions.”

Jindal is currently in Baton Rouge with his family, who were evacuated from their home in Kenner, La., on Sunday.

Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-La.) was also with his family, though in Lake Charles, according to spokeswoman Melanie Rouffell. The Congressman plans to set up a tour to assess the damage with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

But for now, due to downed phone lines and widespread loss of electricity, it has been difficult to communicate with his New Orleans constituents. “Most of the city is out of power,” Roufell said. “There is no way to get a clear message out to the people.”

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) has been at the Emergency Operation Center in Baton Rouge, the nerve center for all disaster relief in the state, monitoring the situation since early this morning along with representatives from FEMA. “Our top priority now is both to be responsive to the needs of our citizens and hold FEMA accountable to do everything they can to help our state,” Melancon Chief of Staff Casey O’Shea said.

O’Shea added that Melancon’s office is considering sending staffers from Washington, D.C., to support the staff in Louisiana while they cope with the damage and take care of their own families.

This afternoon, after Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) declared a state of emergency, President Bush authorized emergency assistance for Louisiana, along with Mississippi and Alabama, opening up FEMA’s ability to move in and assist state and local governments with disaster relief and cleanup efforts.

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