The French Quarter Picks Up After Katrina
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on vacation. I'm Renee Montagne.
Authorities say dozens of people are dead and more than a million without power in the path of flooding and destruction left by Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says several hundred people have been rescued in boats from rooftops, attics and other locations.
Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): Katrina is by no means over. Wherever you live, it is still too dangerous for people to return home. If you evacuated and you're in a shelter, if you're with friends and family, please, please stay there. Stay safe. The roads are flooded. The power is out. The phones are down and there is no food or water, and many trees are down. So chances are, if you try to come in, you wouldn't be able to get your vehicle through anyway.
MONTAGNE: Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana.
Along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama massive rescue and recovery operations are under way. Katrina has been downgraded to a tropical storm and it's dumped heavy rains as it moves north. Experts say the extent of the damage won't be known for days. There are reports that many of the fatalities were from Harrison County, Mississippi, which includes Gulfport and Biloxi.
New Orleans was spared the catastrophic flooding that many had feared, but the damage is heavy. Streets and buildings are flooded and riddled with debris. NPR's John Burnett is in New Orleans and visited its famous French Quarter where the cleanup has already begun.
JOHN BURNETT reporting:
The French Quarter has always had a built-in advantage when a hurricane approaches. It sits on a slightly elevated piece of land beside the Mississippi River. Though 140-mile-per-hour winds came roaring into the narrow streets of the Quarter yesterday morning, the historic houses with their wrought-iron balconies and potted ferns, sustained relatively little damage. Most debris in the streets came from trees uprooted and limbs snapped by the gales.
Yesterday afternoon, as the sun briefly appeared between the receding hurricane clouds, neighbors Winston Gray and Carolyn Crack(ph) sat on the front stoop of his bungalow on upper Bourbon Street.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WINSTON GRAY (New Orleans Resident): I think we really were fortunate. We've lost some shingles off of the new roofs that we got after the last hurricane, and we lost some shingles there. I lost a tree in my courtyard.
Ms. CAROLYN CRACK (New Orleans Resident): I didn't believe the water would be high in the Quarter, and I wasn't worried about anything else because these buildings speak for themselves. They've been here all these years.
BURNETT: It's all intact mostly: Cafe Du Monde with its green and white awning, Central Grocery, home of the original muffuletta sandwich; Tujague's Restaurant, the Cornstalk hotel, even the She Bar(ph) on Bourbon; they all came through relatively unscathed.
Though certainly not every house in the Quarter had good news. Terry Bloothe(ph), a funeral home employee who was sitting forlornly on a cement step, said his apartment is a total loss.
Mr. TERRY BLOOTHE (New Orleans Resident): We live on a third-story. It blew out all of our windows and then it tore out the Sheetrock and then the insulation came out, and then it was water, insulation and mud and it destroyed everything we owned.
BURNETT: So what will he do now?
Mr. BLOOTHE: Throw it away and start over, I guess.
(Soundbite of machinery running)
BURNETT: The sound you hear behind me are the big industrial generators that are powering the hotels and emergency crews here in downtown New Orleans. This city of half a million remains without power. It could be many weeks before all the neighborhoods are reconnected. All 10 local hospitals are reportedly running on emergency generators. Drinkable water is also a problem. The lack of power has made it impossible to get water pressure in some areas of the city, and in others the authorities have asked residents if they can get tap water to boil it before they drink it.
Of all the neighborhoods in New Orleans, the Quarter was one of the first to begin to return to normal yesterday. Even though electricity is a distant dream, some bars have reopened to sell iced beer to fend off the tropical heat and restore the city's joie de vivre.
(Soundbite of a crowd cheering)
Unidentified Man #1: Come on now!
Unidentified Man #2: Whew!
BURNETT: A group of men standing on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street were well along on their post-hurricane party.
Down on Canal Street the storm had uprooted dozens of palm trees planted by a casino and pushed over others at crazy angles. The street was littered with broken glass and, above, curtains fluttered out of gaping windows. The median was full of police cars and uniformed officers meant to discourage anyone from venturing into the shops whose windows were shattered in the storm.
Freeman Speers(ph), with the Orleans Levee District Police Department, tried to do his job and not think about what lay ahead for him. His house is located in east New Orleans where police say many, many homes, perhaps hundreds, were inundated by flood waters.
Officer FREEMAN SPEERS (Orleans Levee District Police Department): My house has about eight feet of water in it, but my family is safe and that's all that counts. And I'm out here trying to help other people and stop the looters.
(Soundbite of street noise)
BURNETT: Among the biggest losses in the French Quarter are the magnificent live oaks and magnolias in front of and behind the stately old St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. Patricia Harris is a retired teacher. She says she was walking by and surveying the damage when she made a remarkable discovery.
Ms. PATRICIA HARRIS (Retired Teacher): Behind the main cathedral in the city, giant ancient oak trees were uprooted. There's a statue of Jesus and the trees fell around him. He was not touched.
BURNETT: By late yesterday afternoon, the streets of downtown New Orleans were filling up with sightseers, though police have not lifted their dusk-to-dawn curfew. Many streets are still impassable because of downed trees, power lines and traffic lights. There is still no word about when New Orleanians can start going home. John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans.