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BLITZER: These are live pictures we're getting from Interstate 45 north of Houston. Doesn't look like a lot of traffic today as people are starting to come back. That could pick up, clearly, in the hours and days ahead. We'll continue to monitor the traffic situation in the Houston area.
Just a little while ago, I spoke with the Texas governor, Rick Perry, about the current state of operations in Texas.
BLITZER: Governor Perry, thanks so much for joining us. Perhaps you could give us a status report right now. In Texas, how many people were killed as a result of Hurricane Rita?
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: No, that's a real blessing. At this particular point in time, no casualties from the hurricane itself, and you know, obviously a lot of residential, commercial buildings -- it appears the refining industry, the oil and gas industry, a glancing blow at worst, and so hopefully they will be back in production very soon.
But the most important part of this whole story is that this time, other than the tragedy of the bus in Dallas on the evacuation, there's been no loss of life by the actual impact of this hurricane.
BLITZER: Well, you raise the issue of that horrible bus tragedy with that assisted living center. The Houston Chronicle is reporting today -- and let me read to you what they say. They say: "Under an emergency order issued by Governor Perry last week, however, some requirements for motor carriers were suspended to allow every available vehicle to be used for the evacuation."
Do you fear that that order may have contributed to that horrible tragedy, that bus accident?
PERRY: We took no safety precautions away at all. I mean, we were very clear, this was to get as many vehicles on the road, to get people out of harm's way. But the safety requirements were absolutely not waived. So the answer to that is no.
We needed to get people moved, and we did an extraordinary job of moving 2.5 million, 3 million people over a 36-hour period of time out of a massive storm.
BLITZER: A huge area.
Do you have a good idea in your own mind right now how that bus tragedy occurred?
PERRY: No, I have no idea. You know, we'll have to let the experts do that.
I know we had 20-plus elderly people on there with oxygen cylinders. And I don't know, and I think it would be wise for all of us to wait until that investigation is done before we come to any conclusions.
BLITZER: We're seeing today people starting in relatively big numbers to want to get back to their homes, which is understandable. Are you still telling people of the Houston area, "Hold off for the time being"?
PERRY: We're asking them is to listen to their local officials. And we've got a plan to get folks back in in an orderly way. There's -- those -- Monday, Tuesday, directions are forthcoming if they're not already out there.
But the folks over in southeast Texas, these eight, nine, 10 counties that were impacted by the storm, we're asking them, "If you're comfortable, you got food, you got clothing, stay where you are. This is still a dangerous place here, and it's secure, with law enforcement. Let us start cleaning this place up, get electricity, so that water and sewage and those types of things are back for this area. Stay put; don't come back into southeast Texas today."
BLITZER: But this is a voluntary request. There's no penalty, I take it, if people don't heed your request.
PERRY: That's correct. But by and large, this entire process has been a voluntary. Even though we have a mandatory evacuation, there are no penalties for that.
These are people who have seen the impact of Katrina. They've seen very vivid pictures of what an 18- to 20-foot storm surge would do to Galveston, Corpus Christi, to Houston, to Beaumont, and these people wisely moved out of harm's way. And we saved a lot of lives.
BLITZER: There were those horrible traffic jams, trying to get millions of people out of the Houston area. This is the fourth largest city in the United States, a metropolitan area of about 4.5 million people. The mayor, Bill White, seemed to suggest that the state could have done a better job in handling this. Listen to what he said.
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WHITE: Everybody knows that it was just totally unacceptable, and that there were not adequate fuel supplies stashed around the state, And that, as the judge has said before, that's a part of the state plan that's going to need improvement.
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BLITZER: All right, you want to respond to that? PERRY: Well, I think you can improve on any plan. And these local officials have been great to work with, and we'll continue to work with them.
The fact of the matter is, on the heels of Katrina, the entire fuel supply situation in the state of Texas is a little bit stressed.
But the fact of the matter is, we're not interested in pointing fingers right now. We're interested in getting these people in southeast Texas back into their homes and back into their businesses and to flow as many supplies as we can.
I know the mayor will sit down with us after this is all over with, and we'll collectively and appropriately analyze and deconstruct and put together an even better plan for the future.
That's what we've been doing in this state for years and years now. The last four, we've had over 150 different exercises, and a lot of different mayors working with us and county judges. So it's one of the great things -- one of the reasons that we were able to move 2.5 million, 3 million people in 36 hours: the largest evacuation in American history. And it went rather well. Next time, if we have to do it again, hopefully, we can do it even better.
BLITZER: Are you going to have enough gas at the gas stations to allow these 2.5 million, 3 million people to drive back to their homes?
PERRY: We do. That's one of the things that we're really focused on now. The terminals in San Antonio and Houston: reports are that they're full. And we're going to station those tankers in places where we make sure that these folks don't run out of gas. And if they do, have the spotter trucks to be able to move in and keep this traffic flowing.
As we flew over from Austin yesterday, Wolf, I-45, I-10, 290, all of those major thoroughfares were flowing very nicely. We didn't see any stackups at all. I'm sure there were some with accidents and what have you. But, you know, we have huge traffic jams in the state of Texas every day on normal days, so it's one of the reasons that we're focusing on building more highways in this state.
BLITZER: One of the other problems that we saw was at the Houston airports, especially George Bush International Airport, the TSA screeners, about 100 of them, failed to show up. They were worried perhaps about their own lives, their own families.
What can we learn from that? One suggestion being, bring TSA screeners in from other parts of the country, if necessary, in an emergency evacuation like that.
PERRY: There's probably some good back-and-forth between Secretary Chertoff's office and those folks that need to occur.
But again, that's a federal issue that I'm sure they'll listen to our instincts and our information on it, but one that looks to me like it's pretty easily fixed.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but do you have a preliminary cost estimate: how much it's going to cost to fix all the damage from Rita in Texas?
PERRY: You know, we've seen some numbers from our homeland security and our emergency management folks well up over $8 billion. So again, that's preliminary damage and, you know, our expectation is that our congressional delegations and the administration will pay fully the cost of this.
And, you know, Texas has already been impacted in a rather substantial economic way with Katrina and the great job that Texans opened their hearts and their arms and their homes and their pocket books. And so, our expectation is that the federal government will be generous, and appropriately so, with Texas, with the Katrina and the Rita impact on our state.
BLITZER: Good luck, Governor Perry. Good luck to everyone in Texas.
PERRY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We wish you only the best.
PERRY: Appreciate your prayers, bud.
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