BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with its federal, state and local partners to remind those that fled Hurricane Gustav to remain in place until state and local officials announce it is safe to return.
"Don't go home when there's no power, there's no water, the roads are blocked, and trees are down," said FEMA Administrator David Paulison.
Evacuees attempting to return home early face road blocks, traffic delays, limited water and food, limited utilities, no hospitals and limited if any health care facilities, and serious health hazards. Those crowding the roads seeking to return home are limiting the mobility of emergency responders, utility workers and other essential personnel who must travel to their area and complete their work before it is safe for the general public to return.
Instead, evacuees should remain where they are ? with friends and family, at a hotel, or at a shelter. Shelters provide safe havens for evacuees with food and medical care while officials in southern Louisiana work to prepare for their return.
Noted Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, "The only reason we don't have more tales of people in grave danger and more loss of life is because everybody heeded the governor's instructions, the mayor's instructions, the parish president's instructions to get out of town." Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal reiterated his point that there was work to be done before residents return. "Obviously a huge challenge as we're trying to get critical services back up," said Jindal. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin added, "Hold tight for today."
FEMA also reemphasized that volunteers should not report directly to the affected areas unless directed by a voluntary agency. Self-dispatched volunteers put themselves and others in harm's way.
Federal, state and local governments all agree: no one should risk entering the area before essential services are restored. "Traditionally in these types of storms we get more injuries after the storm than we do during the storm. We want people to be careful," said Paulison.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. For more information on FEMA activities visit www.FEMA.gov.