Assessing Katrina's Damage in Jefferson Parish

Alex Chadwick speaks with Walter Maestri, director of emergency management for Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, about how Hurricane Katrina has so far impacted New Orleans and surrounding communities.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Katrina has moved on into Mississippi and recall that it already passed over Florida. That state today says the storm caused 11 deaths there. No word on storm casualties in Louisiana yet, but the damage extends beyond the city of New Orleans. Walter Maestri is director of Emergency Management for Jefferson Parish. That's the community that surrounds the city of New Orleans on three sides, and we spoke earlier.

What is the situation there in the parish?

Mr. WALTER MAESTRI (Director, Emergency Management, Jefferson Parish): We are experiencing the rainfall that's associated with storms of this type, basically, pelting rain, almost falling parallel to the ground.

CHADWICK: Is your area mostly evacuated, as the city is?

Mr. MAESTRI: Yes, it is. We believe we experienced or achieved evacuation in--on the order of about 60 to 65 percent.

CHADWICK: So who's left and what are you doing to take care of them?

Mr. MAESTRI: The population that's left is basically the population that either couldn't evacuate for health reasons or for financial reasons or for simply some folks who have experienced hurricanes in the past, mostly older folks, simply feel that they know how to deal with this, have dealt with it before, their homes are strong enough, and so forth. I'm not sure they're agreeing with that at this moment, that they're happy that they didn't make the decision to go, because of what we're experiencing.

CHADWICK: But it sounds as though most of those who stayed, in fact, are the most vulnerable.

Mr. MAESTRI: That's correct, and that's one of the real problems, you know, of an event like this.

CHADWICK: I know that New Orleans is very worried about flooding, and flooding already has occurred, I guess, in some parts of the city; at least news reports are that some homes are flooded. What about in your area?

Mr. MAESTRI: The same here. We are extremely similar to the city. We all inhabit, if you wish, the same bowl, surrounded on all sides by levees that keep the various significant water systems out of our neighborhoods and out of our homes. And now because of the nature of this storm, many of those levees with the tidal surge that's accompanying these very, very powerful winds, many of these levees are being topped, and therefore the water is on our streets and in our homes.

CHADWICK: When people talk about the storm surge, is that something that will come, say, at high tide? Is there a moment when that occurs?

Mr. MAESTRI: Basically, Alex, what happens is as this enormous energy system approaches the coastline, out--from out over the Gulf of Mexico, it is pushing in front of it a wall of water. In this particular case, that wall of water was some 20 to 28 feet tall. And as that wall approaches our levee systems--our levees are built to about, oh, from 13 to 15 feet high--it pushes that water over the top of our levee systems and into our neighborhoods.

CHADWICK: So has that occurred? As--have the levees been topped?

Mr. MAESTRI: Yes, they have, and in some parts of the metro area that has happened. Now the good news of this horrible scenario is that the metropolitan area directly, the area of highest population, seems to have avoided that. The eye passed slightly to the east of the metro area, and it's impacted two other suburban parishes, basically whose lifestyle is rural and they--many fishing communities, and it's therefore had an impact on the metro area, but not the kind of impact that it could have had had this storm come in on a more westerly track.

CHADWICK: Mr. Maestri, thank you for speaking with us, and good luck to you there.

Mr. MAESTRI: Thank you, sir.

CHADWICK: Walter Maestri, director of Emergency Management for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

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