Lake Charles – State health officials advise residents of the Lake Charles area who evacuated before Hurricane Rita to avoid permanently returning to the city and repopulating the area at this time because of public health concerns in the area.

 “This area remains under a boil advisory, meaning that potentially harmful bacteria are still in the water supply and could be ingested if people use the water for drinking, cooking or for any other daily activities such as bathing, brushing their teeth or washing their hands,” said Regional Medical Director Dr. B.J. Foch. “Also, the area does not yet have electricity restored and is lacking proper sewage disposal services. All of these raise very serious health concerns and people who re-enter the city may be exposed to diseases if they do not allow time for the necessary relief work to ensure public health and safety. We know that many people are returning to their residences temporarily to survey damages and collect their important items and we ask that while doing so, they follow these health precautions.”

 In addition to these public health concerns, the area also lacks full medical capacity, since many area hospitals and health care facilities are currently inaccessible, Dr. Foch said.

 “In addition to diseases, injuries are a great concern, and without access to emergency care and response, this could result in a serious injury or even death,” he said. “For this reason, we ask that people consider the health and safety risks involved with repopulating the area immediately after the storm and ask that they wait to return here until the area has been declared safe for permanent re-entry by the appropriate officials.”

 Health officials also warn the public that retail food establishments will be inaccessible for most of the area, as restaurants must undergo a health survey before they can reopen for business. Food establishments that have not been surveyed by the health department may not meet the state sanitary code and have not yet been cleared to reopen. 

 “If people choose to eat in places that the health department has not had a chance to properly survey the facility and ensure compliance, they could be putting themselves at risk for food poisoning or foodborne illness,” Dr. Foch said.

 The Department of Health has set up a medical triage site at the Lake Charles Convention Center on Lakeshore Drive for people who remained behind and need to be treated and evacuated away from the Lake Charles area. Medical volunteers who wish to staff this area are asked to contact the department at (225) 763-5770.

 Lake Charles area medical facilities trying to reopen after Hurricane Rita should contact LDH at (225) 342-4997 to begin this process.