Damage Widespread in New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina has left New Orleans with a host of problems, from flooding and structural damage to power outages and crippled water systems. Robert Siegel talks with Mark Schleifstein, environment reporter at the New Orleans Times Picayune. He joins us from New Orleans, La.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joining us from New Orleans is Mark Schleifstein, who is environment reporter for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

And, Mark Schleifstein, I wonder if you could begin by giving us a general assessment from authorities there about how hard, first, the city of New Orleans was hit today.

Mr. MARK SCHLEIFSTEIN (The Times-Picayune): Well, we've been hit hard but not as hard as we could be. There is definitely some flooding in several areas that we're still trying to get a handle on to see whether or not it's as bad as Hurricane Betsy was in 1965. The worst areas are actually in a community called Chalmette that's a little bit south of the city. But, again, the storm sort of collapsed a little bit before it came across and its winds were not quite as strong, and it went a little bit east, just enough to spare us the absolute worst. But it's certainly created havoc.

SIEGEL: Now before we lapse completely into past tense here, there's still a possibility of a storm surge, isn't there?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Yes, well, that's one of the things that we're still trying to figure out. The water in Lake Pontchartrain sort of backs up in bunches at the western end of the lake, and it can take quite awhile before that water makes its way towards levees that it might overtop. Now it has already overtopped some levees along the lake front rather early on in the process and it did--also the Chalmette flooding was also caused by a storm surge that went up what's called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

SIEGEL: But when you speak of water rising over the height of the levees, this is something that happens once every several decades or...

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Well, this is the first time that it's happened since Betsy and the levees were all raised after Betsy. So this is a first. This really is a first.

SIEGEL: Is anybody offering any estimate of how the recovery might go, how long it might take?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: I don't really think so. I think they're still trying to get a handle on what's going on. I'll tell you this, there are 770,000 electricity customers who don't have electricity. That's a huge amount, and I really don't expect a lot of customers to be back in service for days, if not a week or maybe in some cases two weeks.

SIEGEL: You're talking about the better part of the entire metropolitan area that's...

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Right.

SIEGEL: ...without power?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Right, it's pretty extensive and widespread.

SIEGEL: And running water?

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: My understanding is that Jefferson Parish is having some problems with their water. They're going to have to basically restart their water system once they get electricity running back to it again. That could take a couple of days. New Orleans, at least here, we still have our water on so it looks like it survived.

SIEGEL: Mark Schleifstein, environment reporter for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. SCHLEIFSTEIN: Well, thank you.

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