Department of the Interior

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September 14, 2005
(202) 208-6416
Secretary Norton Surveys Gulf Coast, Commends Recovery Efforts

WASHINGTON, DC - Visiting areas of the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton expressed compassion for the people left homeless by the storm; thanked local, state and federal workers for their ongoing recovery efforts and said progress has been made in restoring Gulf energy production.

"This has been a devastating experience for residents of the Gulf Coast Region and our hearts and prayers go out to them," Norton said. "We are determined to do all we can to support and work with local and state officials in this massive recovery campaign."

Norton joined Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in visits to Gulf Coast energy installations, met with private sector energy officials and thanked local energy workers for restoring critical pipelines and other facilities. Norton also made aerial inspections of New Orleans and offshore production platforms.

Norton said the joint Interior, Energy and Transportation visit reflected the interrelatedness of energy production - from offshore platforms to onshore refineries and pipelines. "Both public and private sectors have been working to get the energy sector back up despite the devastation of lost homes and displaced families. It is a credit to them that the environment has been protected with no significant oil spills coming from the offshore wells," Norton said Tuesday.

"We have restored a large share of that production capability but we must complete additional damage assessments, facility inspections and infrastructure repairs to return our production to pre-Katrina levels," Norton said. "We have seen the challenges that are being posed by damaged roads and port facilities. In order to transport employees and supplies to get these systems up and running, we are working to find ways around obstacles. I can't emphasize enough the terrific efforts made by individuals to come up with solutions when their personal world is in ruins. It is a credit to preparedness that some 25,000 offshore workers were evacuated and that the environment has been protected."

On Monday, Norton commended employees of Interior's Minerals Management Service, who have relocated their regional headquarters from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, and have been working with energy companies to help restore Gulf oil and gas production shut down by the storm.

"MMS employees, many of whom have lost their homes and possessions, have been especially dedicated, carrying on their public service under the most difficult conditions," Norton said. "As an MMS employee at the Houston meeting wrote on a message board in the chaos of their temporary offices, 'You don't have e-mail -- get over it. I don't have a house.' "

Norton thanked Interior employees for their commitment and efforts. "More than 1,400 Interior employees are working with local and state agencies to rescue residents trapped by the storm, provide food, water and shelter and assist with the recovery efforts throughout the region," Norton said. Interior efforts to respond to the catastrophe include the following ongoing assistance:

The Minerals Management Service regional office in New Orleans, which was staffed by 506 MMS employees, was closed due to storm damage; about 50 essential personnel continue to operate from Houston. The MMS office in Houston will expand in coming weeks, bringing the total to about 150 employees. MMS has accounted for all of its personnel except for two individuals; efforts to contact them continue. About 40 MMS district inspectors continue to work with energy companies to help restore oil and gas production shut down by the storm. Oil production has gone from 95 percent shut-in on Aug. 30 to 56 percent on Sept. 13; during the same period daily gas production has gone from 88 percent shut-in to 37 percent. About 90 percent of Gulf oil production comes from offshore facilities that suffered no or minor damage and this production could return to the market in a month if refineries, processing plants, pipelines and other onshore facilities are in place to receive, process and transport it. MMS manages Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production, which accounts for one-third of the total domestic energy production. Daily updates on the status of oil and gas platforms and production is online at

About 1,035 Interior employees from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs are working on recovery efforts as part of the National Interagency Fire Center mobilization, which supports FEMA operations. These specially trained emergency assistance workers are managing mobilization centers and base camps for field hospitals and receiving and distributing equipment and relief supplies. They are also managing the care, feeding and logistical support of thousands of relief workers, volunteers and victims who were unable to evacuate.

The Bureau of Reclamation coordinates the department's support to the public works and engineering mission of the recovery effort, which is led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Reclamation has deployed 33 personnel to Port Allen, La., to assist in management of temporary roofing. Two more temporary roofing missions will be activated this week to Biloxi, Miss. A total of 300 to 500 personnel from Interior will be mobilized to support this mission, which will also include debris removal and temporary housing. Reclamation continues to provide engineering expertise in repairing breeches to levees on Lake Pontchartrain and facilitating communications in removing water from New Orleans.

A Reclamation water treatment plant, capable of providing up to 200,000 gallons of water daily, is now operational in Biloxi, Miss, taking water from the Gulf of Mexico, treating it, and pumping the drinking water to the Biloxi Regional Medical Center.

About 60 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal officers are providing relief efforts for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Reservation, the hardest hit of the six federally recognized tribes in the region affected by the hurricane. Katrina's eye passed directly over the city of Philadelphia, Miss., where the BIA's Choctaw Agency is located. Winds estimated at 100 to 120 miles per hour knocked out power to homes and businesses, felled trees, and damaged roofs in each of the tribe's eight communities. In Bogue Homa several homes were damaged and 200 families need assistance. BIA Director W. Patrick Ragsdale visited the Choctaw communities hit by the storm and met with Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin and tribal officials on the bureau's continuing relief efforts. The tribe's eight BIA-funded schools suffered minimal effects from the storm and BIA's Office of Indian Education Programs is replacing spoiled food supplies. The schools are expected to reopen in a few days.

U. S. Geological Survey: About 125 USGS personnel are responding to Katrina. USGS has provided 22 boats and numerous personnel for search-and-rescue operations, evacuation and delivery of food and water to those who could not evacuate. USGS employees in Lafayette, La., are providing relief to displaced families at the University of Louisiana. USGS geographers are providing pinpoint maps to 911 calls where people need rescue. USGS technicians are repairing and replacing damaged stream gauges throughout the region to restore flood-warning capacity; coordinating with other federal agencies to provide geospatial information, maps, satellite images and scientific assessments to help response and recovery operations; and sampling and testing water pumped out of New Orleans and into Lake Pontchartrain. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center is leading efforts that involve animal and plant disease; teams are on stand-by for deployment.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service: About 200 FWS employees are deployed; 150 are based at Lacombe, La., clearing roads and cleaning debris from public facilities. The Service continues to provide food, water, fuel and sleeping accommodations to local police, fire departments, American Red Cross volunteers, and National Guard and law enforcement personnel. Crews in Arabi, La., continue to support local fire departments clearing houses and rescuing evacuees. A group of 30 FWS employees are carrying out search-and-rescue missions in Jon boats and airboats, which they brought with them. Last week FWS teams helped to rescue and evacuate more than 350 residents trapped in New Orleans by flood waters.

National Park Service: About 217 NPS personnel are involved in the recovery effort at three sites; Everglades National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve/New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. NPS workers continue to provide public safety, clear roads for emergency access and provide coordination for most Interior bureaus in New Orleans with the New Orleans Unified Command. In addition, NPS personnel are working to reopen areas of some of the parks to visitation.

Office of Law Enforcement and Security: About 150 Interior law-enforcement personnel are deployed into the disaster area, providing security for other missions and bureau response operations. Interior also has deployed a representative to the Department of Homeland Security Joint Operations Center in Baton Rouge, La., to coordinate potential future law-enforcement and security missions. The Office of Law Enforcement and Security coordinates the Department's emergency response and provides liaison with the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and other agencies. Emergency management and Watch Office staffs continue to maintain situational awareness and coordinate with the DHS Interagency Incident Management Group and Homeland Security Operations Center.

[Editors Note: A slideshow of digital photographs recorded Tuesday by Secretary Norton during her tour of the region is available for viewing on ]