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Lack of electricity may complicate new evacuations

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  • One-third of Louisiana households are still without power days after Gustav
  • Homeland Security chief says power is back at some gas stations
  • Hurricane Ike might be heading toward the area
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal government is "working with great urgency" to restore one-third of the households in Louisiana that still have no power days after after Hurricane Gustav, the chief of Homeland Security said Friday.

Lisa Danos gets ice Friday in Houma, Louisiana, one of the many areas of the state still without power.

With Hurricane Ike possibly heading toward the Gulf Coast, the lack of electricity could greatly complicate possible evacuations.

"One of the concerns we had ... was making sure we got enough power up, particularly in the gas stations, so that if people did need to leave again, they could gas their car up and they could go," Chertoff said Friday.

Power has been restored to some gasoline stations in Louisiana, and Chertoff said fuel trucks capable of pumping gas directly into cars may be an alternative for other drivers.

Electricity is "the Achilles heel of recovery," he said. If power is restored, problems of food distribution, medical care, and water and sewer service can be addressed, allowing people to return to their houses.

"If you don't have that electricity, everything stalls, and then the government ends up having to feed people meals-ready-to-eat and bottles of water," Chertoff added.

The Homeland Security secretary said that more redundancy is needed in the power system so that when a key piece of equipment is damaged or destroyed, there is something to fall back on. That is often not the case, he said.

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"We live in a world in which the business model is 'Just in time.' ... Do just enough in order to provide the service, but don't do anything extra, because it is considered wasteful."

Though acknowledging that he is not an engineer, Chertoff suggested that utility companies place crucial assets in less vulnerable locations and put some below ground.

All About LouisianaMichael ChertoffHurricane Gustav

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