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Worthington native shares tales of devastation

WORTHINGTON -- Jim Haack has called the state of Louisiana home for more than 30 years and has seen plenty during his career as a consultant engineer in the oil and gas industry.

But he's never seen anything like the wrath inflicted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A native of Worthington, Haack reflected on recent weeks along the Gulf Coast during a brief visit to his home town.

Haack lives in Lafayette, La., about 140 miles northwest of New Orleans. While acknowledging the devastating effect Katrina had on New Orleans, he's quick to state his belief that the devastation caused by Rita has been understated in the media.

"Rita -- and this is something not being reported on the national news for whatever reason -- did more damage to southwest Louisiana than Katrina did to New Orleans," Haack asserted.

"There are snakes and dead animals everywhere around the Southwest. When Rita was coming, the people in the Southwest -- there are a lot of small towns that were going to be affected -- all evacuated. But in southwest Louisiana, all those small towns are 100 percent devastated. I know someone who lost a farmhouse and found it six miles away."

Haack, who was in Worthington to visit his sister, Sandra Jones, and mother, Lillian Kaas, is no stranger to emergency situations. He was working on an oil rig in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein and Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, an action that led to a U.S. military invasion in January 1991.

When Rita blew through in late September, Haack was working on a rig two miles from the Gulf Coast, he said. The rig was abandoned beforehand, and evidence soon remained as to how the storm left its mark.

"We found where water was close to the top of the rig, about 42 feet high," Haack said. "There was a building on the top of that structure, and you could tell that water was there.

"We had tanks that weighed 50,000 pounds each that were found more than two miles away," he added later. "There were three tanks ... 40 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter ... that were never found."

Destruction was evident elsewhere. Haack observed several broken pipelines -- "you could see the gas bubbling up through the water" -- and he estimates it will be another six months before oil and gas facilities are going to return to being fully operational.

"As many hurricanes as southwest Louisiana and the Gulf Coast have seen over the last 30 years, probably only three offshore rigs have been lost because of storms," Haack said. "This time, about 40 rigs were lost after Katrina and Rita."

While Haack doesn't expect any additional dramatic increases in gasoline prices over the coming months,he's aware natural gas will be a different story. Various news reports have indicated that up to 70 percent hikes in home heating costs are expected this winter.

Haack and his crew are in the midst of getting their rig back in operation, an effort that will eventually produce 20 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, he said.

"My rig is probably going to be the first one that gets back to work, and that's all due to good planning by the group," he added.

In the meantime, workers have set up camp at the site and have continued to pump water out of the rig. Several people employed at the site have lost their homes, Haack said; some are staying at the camp, where there have been generators set up and food made available.

Cleanup work has been made difficult by not just the volume of water, but what's been found in it.

"Everywhere where a beam joins another one at the rig structure ... there are water moccasins, which are poisonous," Haack stated.

Haack was scheduled to fly back to Louisiana early this morning and soon return to work. While Lafayette had heavy rains totaling 9 inches during Rita, he and others there still have homes.

Many others in nearby smaller communities, though, aren't so lucky.

"Southwest Louisiana looks to me what the end of the world would look like," Haack said. "There's no weapon man could make that could do the kind of damage Rita did."

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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