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‘I’ve never seen this much water,’ says Louisiana congressman

August 31, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins joins Miles O’Brien to discuss the impact of Tropical Storm Harvey on his district and the challenge of coordinating rescue efforts to support those impacted by flooding.
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MILES O’BRIEN: Louisiana is the next target for Harvey’s wrath. Like Texas, the terrain is prone to flooding, and for residents there, the worst is yet to come.

Congressman Clay Higgins represents Louisiana’s 3rd District, which covers much of the state’s southwest coast. He’s a former law enforcement officer and now serves on the House Science Committee.

I spoke with him by phone a short time ago.

Congressman Higgins, thanks for being with us.

I know you were very worried about your district in advance of Harvey, and the concern was that there be a direct blow on that second approach to landfall. It appears you dodged that bullet. Give us a sense, though, of what the consequences of Harvey were in your district.

REP. CLAY HIGGINS, R-La.: Well, the storm sort of hit exactly at the state border, which my district, of course, includes the parishes in Louisiana that border Texas in the southern portion of the state.

So, so many of our citizens from Louisiana and from the district that I represent were part of that rescue, civilian rescue effort that is commonly referred to as the Cajun navy, which essentially is just thousands and thousands of civilians with boats and four-wheel drive trucks that load up their vehicles with water and food and temporary shelter, and they just roll out to areas, neighborhoods that have been flooded.

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And they begin rescuing people from second-floor, you know, apartments or from rooftops or out of attics. A very common mistake is for someone, as their house begins to flood, they go up to the second story, or they crawl into the attic. And then they have no way out.

So we have to use chain saws to cut through the roof in order to get sometimes whole families out of an attic on to a boat and then to high ground. And then from there, they have to be picked up by buses and brought to a shelter, a temporary shelter, until they can get put somewhere more permanent, until they can return to their homes and begin the recovery process.

I have been through many storms, brother, and I have never seen this much water, never, not in Katrina and not in any of the storms that have hit Louisiana. I’m 56 years old. I have never seen this much water dumped at one time.

MILES O’BRIEN: Tell us a little bit about how many shelters you have in your district, how many people have come from the hard-hit areas and are being sheltered there.

REP. CLAY HIGGINS: We have two major shelters set up in Calcasieu Parish in the Lake Charles area, with hundreds and hundreds of displaced Americans out of Texas that have been brought into those shelters.

So it’s quite an endeavor. There are so many entities working with this response and recovery and rescue efforts, that it can be quite difficult to coordinate all those entities, especially when you include civilians working in massive quantities just out of the goodness of their heart, out of their own pocket.

They don’t get a dime back, you understand. And you have large government responses. It can be quite complicated.

MILES O’BRIEN: Congressman Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, thank you for your time.

REP. CLAY HIGGINS: And thank you, sir. And God bless you for shedding light on this and for your kindness during this interview. I thank you for your journalistic integrity, sir.

MILES O’BRIEN: The record-breaking nature of Harvey has renewed the conversation about the link between climate change and extreme weather events.

Congressman Higgins is a vocal climate change skeptic. I asked him if the events of the last week have at all changed his mind. You can listen to that exchange on our website, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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