Senator Awaits Hurricane in Baton Rouge

Jacki Lyden and Debbie Elliott speak with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) from the Louisiana state capital, Baton Rouge. Senator Landrieu was evacuated from New Orleans, and plans to wait the hurricane out at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Baton Rouge.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

And we're joined now by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. She's also in Baton Rouge, and will be spending the evening at the Hurricane Command Center there.

Welcome, Senator Landrieu.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): We appreciate everybody's attention and prayers.

LYDEN: Senator Landrieu, you're a lifelong resident of New Orleans and your father, Moon Landrieu, was the mayor of the city. Do you remember anything like this?

Sen. LANDRIEU: No, not anything really like this. This is unique. It's the first time we've had a mandatory evacuation from the city of New Orleans at least in the last 50 years. We did have a storm that the old-timers remember called Betsy about four decades ago. But as I've said to people that--since that 40 years ago, we've lost a lot of our marsh land, which serves as a natural barrier and buffer to the wind and the waves. The region has grown substantially. The natural drainage has diminished quite a bit. So this Category 5 storm headed right to New Orleans is, indeed, extremely dangerous and one of the reasons we've been asking the federal government for assistance in helping us to restore this precious and protective wetland of ours.

LYDEN: President Bush spoke earlier today and urged people to evacuate. You yourself evacuated this morning from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. What should the federal government be doing now?

Sen. LANDRIEU: It's a massive undertaking, and it really takes tremendous cooperation. I thank the president for his early declaration of emergency. He's given us a declaration in advance of the storm, which is some indication of the seriousness; that's hardly ever done.

The problem is we're talking about a million and a half, two million people trying to get to higher ground in a matter of 24, 48 hours. In addition, we have to evacuate the Gulf of Mexico. Six thousand people any day work in the Gulf keeping lights on in California, New York and Chicago. All of those people have to leave by helicopters, supply boat. The rigs have to come in, in large measure. Some ride out the storm, but some of our rigs come in. It is quite an undertaking, and we need everybody's prayers and support. I know the federal agencies will do everything they can.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT reporting:

Senator Landrieu, this is Debbie Elliott. Can you tell me what you noticed as you were evacuating New Orleans today? Were people heeding the advice? Were they able to get away?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Yes. Yes, Debbie, people were. The roads are very crowded. What I noticed is how beautiful the weather is. It really is surreal. It is gorgeous, it's sunny, it's hot and it's a cool, gentle breeze. And it is hard to believe that literally, you know, 12 hours from now or 24 hours from now, I mean, it will be anything but what I've just described. And so it's surreal. But thank goodness the weather is good so people can get out while the sun is shining. People are trying to get out.

LYDEN: Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, thank you very much. And we wish you very good luck.

Sen. LANDRIEU: Thank you, Jacki, and thank you, Debbie, for helping us keep the focus on this impending disaster.

ELLIOTT: Take care.

LYDEN: OK. Good luck.

Sen. LANDRIEU: Thank you.

LYDEN: Debbie, you've covered all these storms that have hit the Gulf Coast over the past several years. It seems that this one is really one of the largest.

ELLIOTT: It is. It's a Category 5, and we haven't seen a Category 5 storm since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit near Miami and then came into the Gulf of Mexico and looked like it was headed for New Orleans and ended up hitting a much-less-populated area. Then in 1998, Hurricane Georges looked like it was headed for New Orleans, but the city dodged a bullet there when it turned to the east at the last minute and hit over along the Alabama and Mississippi line.

You know, that storm caught a lot of people still on the roadways in the New Orleans area trying to evacuate and sort of raised the attention of emergency officials, who realized that a major storm coming into the New Orleans area would really be a serious problem because of the heavy population there.

And it has the potential to affect not only New Orleans but other areas as it moves inland. You know, as a storm comes ashore and hits the coast, it starts to weaken. And usually by the time it's made its way inland, it's more like just a serious thunderstorm or something. A Category 5 storm is going to stay very strong as it moves in over Louisiana, Mississippi and up into Tennessee. People could be feeling hurricane conditions.

LYDEN: NPR's Debbie Elliott here in the studio, thanks again.

Stay tuned throughout the evening for updates on Hurricane Katrina. For more information, go to our Web site at npr.org.

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