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Hurricane Rita Slams U.S. Fish and Wildlife Facilities in Southwest Louisiana


October 5, 2005

Tom MacKenzie, (404) 679-7291

Hurricane Rita made landfall at Sabine Pass , Louisiana as a strong Category 3 storm on Saturday, September 24, 2005 . The hurricane impacted 22 national wildlife refuges, one national fish hatchery, and several Service administrative facilities. Initial damage estimates as a result of this storm could exceed $41.7 million.

A 30-person Fish and Wildlife Service response team is providing immediate recovery for the affected refuges, employees and the surrounding communities with storm recovery efforts from tarping roofs to opening up roads and driveways for emergency and personal access to homes and facilities in Cameron Parish, La., and the City of Hackberry, La.

Impact on wildlife is widespread along the coastal areas with significant fish loss due to salt water storm surge and loss of land-based wildlife due to flooding and wind-related impacts.

Facilities damage summary:

  • Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Hackberry, La: The eyewall passed over this station at landfall with 110-130 mph sustained winds and a massive storm surge, which caused flooding. This coastal marsh refuge remains under floodwaters. Many structures are confirmed as destroyed by the storm. Major damage is expected to impoundment levees, roads, trails, and other structures as floodwaters recede. Refuge is temporarily closed to public use.
  • Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, BellCity, La: Located approximately 50 miles from the eyewall at landfall, the refuge experienced 80-90 mph sustained winds and severe flooding and remains under floodwaters. Many structures were damaged by wind and interior flooding. Refuge is temporarily closed to public use.
  • Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, LakeArthur, La: Located about 65 miles from the eyewall at landfall, it experienced 75 mph sustained winds and significant flooding. Many structures were damaged by wind and interior flooding, with additional damage to be identified as floodwaters recede. Refuge is temporarily closed to public use.
  • Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery, La: The storm’s eye passed within 20 miles of this station approximately 100 miles inland. The hatchery experienced hurricane-force winds and flooding. Multiple structures have confirmed wind damage and one major hatchery discharge pipe was damaged by flooding. The hatchery is open to public use.
  • Bayou Teche Refuge, Franklin, La, and Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge, Houma, La: These refuges were not severely impacted by high winds, but due to their coastal locations, both experienced severe storm surge flooding. Bayou Teche Refuge is temporarily closed to all public use. Mandalay Refuge is closed for deer hunting until further notice, but open to all other public uses.

Additional stations (listed below) experienced Rita’s high winds, power outages, downed timber, and localized flooding due to intense rainfall.

Atchafalya NWR, La.; Bayou Cocodrie NWR, Ferriday, La.; Catahoula NWR, Rhinehart, La.; Cat Island NWR, Marksville, La.; Dahomey NWR, Boyle, Miss.; D’Arbonne NWR, Farmerville, La.; Felsenthal NWR, Crossett, Ark.; Grand Cote, NWR, Marksville, La.; Lafayette Ecological Services Field Office, La.; Lake Charles Office of Law Enforcement Office, La.; Lake Ophelia NWR, Marksville, La.; Overflow NWR, Parkdale, Ark.; Pond Creek NWR, Lockesburg, Ark.; Red River NWR, Farmerville, La.; Shell Keys NWR, Lacombe, La.; St. Catherine Creek NWR, Sibley, Miss; Tensas River NWR, Tallulah, La.; Upper Oachita NWR, Farmerville, La: and White River NWR, St. Charles, Ark. These refuges are all open to public use.

One month after Hurricane Katrina, four national wildlife refuges remain closed to public use in southeast Louisiana including Big Branch Marsh NWR in Lacomb; Bayou Sauvage NWR in New Orleans; Breton NWR in the Gulf of Mexico; and Delta NWR in Venice. Bon Secour NWR in Gulf Shores, Alabama, has been closed to public access since Hurricane Ivan last fall.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

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