Katrina Douses New Orleans, Moves Inland
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The storm known as Katrina is now a tropical storm, and it's been making a furious march through the Gulf states today. When it came ashore earlier, winds topped 145 miles per hour, pounding rain flooded streets throughout the region; the storm surge was more than 20 feet. Originally forecast to hit New Orleans directly, this morning, Katrina took a turn to the east and instead hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast with force. It cut a swath of damage through Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. All three states have been declared disaster areas. Power is out for some three-quarters of a million people. Here's Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Republican, Mississippi): Mercifully, the winds died down last night from about 175 to 150. But at the time it did that, the same little weather pattern--it chipped a little bit off the storm, knocked it east, and so it came in on Mississippi like a ton of bricks. It's a terrible storm. Whether it'll turn out to be worse than Camille, you know, Lord, I hope not.
SIEGEL: That was Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who is urging people to stay indoors for the time being.
In a few minutes, we'll hear more about the situation in Alabama.
BLOCK: We go first to New Orleans and NPR's John Burnett.
JOHN BURNETT reporting:
Well, I'm standing at the foot of Canal Street, which is one of the main streets of New Orleans, and the good news is it's not a canal; there's just standing water in places. At least from what I can see from downtown, Melissa, this is not nearly as bad as the catastrophe that people were predicting. I'm reminded of that great song that Randy Newman made popular singing about `six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.' It's not here. There are parts of New Orleans that do have water up to the rooftops, but there's not that many of them. One of them is the Lower 9th Ward. The Industrial Canal apparently breached its levee, and there were people rescued from rooftops. There were people who were trapped in their attics as the waters rose. But that's generally not the story that we're beginning to hear, as people are kind of tiptoeing out of their shelters and seeing what's left of their city.
BLOCK: Are you past the point of a threat of a storm surge still?
BURNETT: Yeah, I believe we are. The winds are way down now. It's still gusty; there's very little rain. And if the storm surge was going to come over the levee from Lake Pontchartrain and flood the city, it would have done it by now.
BLOCK: Tell us about what it was like this morning, John, when Hurricane Katrina did hit.
BURNETT: Well, at last, now that I've finally left our hotel, I can look up at this 28-story structure, the Hilton, which overlooks the Mississippi River, and I can see that there are clearly some--a lot of plate glass that's missing. There is some roofing that we saw fly off. There's--all of the buildings around it have had damage. The thing--it shook. We were 20, 21 stories up, and in our room, it was moving like a ship on the seas. I mean, there were actually people who were getting dizzy because it was swaying so much. But then, lo and behold, after about three hours of that, it started to slowly dissipate and the whitecaps came off the Mississippi River, and now the storm is slowly moving away.
BLOCK: And they were people who chose not to evacuate the city or were unable to evacuate New Orleans staying in that hotel, too?
BURNETT: Yes, and that always, of course, happens. There are always people who want to ride the storm out and protect their property or just don't take it seriously. And so our hotel was one of the shelters they could come to, and so, sure enough, there was no power, no AC, not much of anything, and people and their dogs had camped out in the banquet rooms. And between the dogfights, every seemed to get along pretty well.
BLOCK: John, power was out earlier. Is it still out?
BURNETT: Yes, power is out everywhere. And that's going to be a serious issue because without power, there's no water pressure. I'm actually looking at a big electrical station right across the street, and I see some workers over there now, so we're certainly hopeful. But the last thing I heard it was, I believe, 327,000 people in southeast Louisiana were without power.
BLOCK: We had heard earlier some reports about looting in the city. Do you know anything about that?
BURNETT: Actually, my colleague Greg Allen was taking a stroll early this morning, and I don't want to give anybody ideas, but there was a Brooks Brothers store and there was a Gap, both of them with windows busted wide open and merchandise, you know, half blown out. There was nobody around, no police around, either. There had been looting around the city, there have been arrests, but I can't say that we've heard chronically that it's happening everywhere.
BLOCK: NPR's John Burnett at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans. John, thanks a lot.
BURNETT: My pleasure.