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Southeast Louisiana Is Forced To Deal With Multiple Challenges Following Ida's Wrath

Sep 2, 2021
Originally published on September 2, 2021 4:59 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. We're going to turn now to southeast Louisiana. Hurricane Ida tore through that region four days ago. Sections of the New Orleans metro area, including the French Quarter, have their power back on. But outside of the city, entire communities have been devastated. In Louisiana and Mississippi, about a million homes still have no electricity. Hundreds of thousands don't have running water. NPR's Debbie Elliott is with us now from New Orleans.

Debbie, good morning. What, at this point, is emerging as the biggest need in terms of recovery?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, certainly infrastructure. You know, the hardest-hit places are likely going to be rebuilding from scratch. Fuel distribution right now is crippled. There's also a growing concern about pollution. New satellite images released by NOAA show a significant oil slick from an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance. And there's also sheen in the Mississippi River, where all kinds of refineries and industries operate and suffered damage from Ida's flooding and winds. All of this taken together is just daunting. Here's Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng.

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CYNTHIA LEE SHENG: Today we're a broken community. It won't always be that way. We don't have electricity. We don't have communication. We don't have gas.

ELLIOTT: The water and sewer systems are also strained. Sheng is telling people who have evacuated not to come back right now and is pleading for patience.

MARTIN: So, Debbie, what are people doing? I mean, are they trying to come back?

ELLIOTT: Well, I think some people are. I've seen countless cars loaded with gas cans to fuel generators just to keep the basics running. Other people are trying to get out, but that's mostly people who have means, a form of transportation, who can get to a gas station. The few operating, you know, have - gas stations have lines that just stretch for blocks. Some people can go stay with family and friends, or otherwise you have to have the money to pay for a long-term hotel. For people that don't have that, they're depending on government help to get out. And that's difficult right now.

I met a young family yesterday in Marrero. That's in Jefferson Parish. They'd come to a city park to await evacuation. Deante Holmes and Jamesica Hutchinson have a 3-month-old baby boy. They say they survived the harrowing storm with windows breaking all around them, but they just couldn't stand this current situation.

DEANTE HOLMES: We don't have no lights, no water. And it's too hot for my son to be in there, so we was looking for some evacuation 'cause we - right now, we ain't no transportation right now at the moment. So it was really tough for us.

JAMESICA HUTCHINSON: Yes, this is a very devastating time for us - for all three of us, actually. We just have to go somewhere. And we thought about our son. And we like, this is not the right condition for him.

ELLIOTT: Now, they were waiting to board a bus that will take them to a shelter in Alexandria. That's more than three hours away.

MARTIN: Wow. So President Biden is now planning a trip to the region on Friday. What's he going to see? Who's he going to hear from?

ELLIOTT: Well, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards says he has a long list of needs that he's going to be giving President Biden. And he thinks having him in the state will help.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Making requests at the same time he sees the utter devastation that has happened here, I think it would be better received.

ELLIOTT: And just to reiterate the scope here, you know, you've got some places where the energy grid will have to be completely rebuilt - Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, for instance - where just about every structure suffered significant damage. There are, like, 600,000 people who don't have water, another 400,000 who have to boil theirs to be safe. Sewage systems aren't working, some sewage now going into the Mississippi River. Many places still have floodwaters. There are vessels that have been blown to places they don't belong. Two-thirds of the state's oil refining capacity was knocked out. So I think for now, officials will be asking President Biden to help with the immediate needs like fuel, food and water, but to come up with a long-term plan so that people can get back in their homes and businesses.

MARTIN: NPR's Debbie Elliott reporting from New Orleans. Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.