Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial

Ed Gordon talks with former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial about the city's needs amid disaster and its prospects for recovery. Morial is now president of the National Urban League.

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ED GORDON, host:

It may be months before many New Orleans residents can even return. To better understand the mounting problems the city faces, we turn now to National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Mark Marc Morial.

Marc, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Former Mayor MARC MORIAL (New Orleans; National Urban League): Thanks for having me on at such a tough time.

GORDON: Listen, I want to talk to you because you more than perhaps any other person can identify with what the mayor is going through. And also, this is your city. Talk to me about how most of us just don't understand the devastation.

Mr. MORIAL: This is a event of catastrophic and biblical proportions. When you've got an entire American city literally underwater with no power, no running water, with flooding literally everywhere and then you've got thousands, tens of thousands of people who are trapped in that city and broken levees in a number of locations, no ability to assess the loss of life, you've got a state of emergency unprecedented in American history. And my appeal to people is to give and send their prayers, number one. But, secondly, today a number of us--Wynton Marsalis and Russell Simmons and BET--are going to announce an effort. And I know there are a number of efforts to encourage people to give to the American Red Cross. And there will be a telethon on BET next Friday. We'll announce that at a press conference here in New York City today.

But we also need--and I make an appeal--the president flew over yesterday and I know his people are engaged--but it's an appeal to the president and his team to put every available federal resource into, number one, bringing in water and food and rations and medical supplies, and then, number two, working, as I know they started yesterday, to evacuate all of the people who remain in New Orleans, because the situation is going to get worse before it gets--it has an opportunity to get better.

The mayor, the governor, all of the officials down there--the heroism of the Coast Guard--those Coast Guard rescue efforts have moved me as those guardsmen have just demonstrated great bravery and courage to pluck people from the roofs of their homes. But this situation is potentially catastrophic in the sense that we may have untold loss of lives. And I think it's difficult for anyone to accurately predict at this point. Secondly, you're going to have potentially millions of citizen refugees, our own American citizens who are refugees in their own country because they've lost their own homes. They're going to need shelter. They're going to need clothing. They're going to need food. People have literally lost their homes, they've lost their businesses, they've lost lives as they know it. A great American city, a great cultural city is fighting for its life right now.

GORDON: Marc, put an understanding on some of this for us, if you will. One of the things I want to make sure that we impart on this show is we are talking about, quite frankly, a whole lot of black folks.

Mr. MORIAL: We are talking about a city that's about 70 percent African-American, and you're talking about a storm that has been an equal destroyer. It's destroyed the city. It's destroyed the suburbs. It's destroyed poor people. It's destroyed rich people in the sense of destroying their lives and taking people's lives. But we're talking about communities there in southeastern Louisiana and in southern Mississippi with large African-American communities and large communities of poor people, many people who did not evacuate, I fear simply could not, didn't have a car, didn't have the money, didn't have the wherewithal. And many of those people are the people who you're seeing on television who are trapped right now in New Orleans. So we need a massive evacuation effort, a massive effort to help people get out of that situation. And then, there will be a need to help these people...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. MORIAL: ...help folks in the short run and then potentially in the long run. I've literally been fighting back tears for the last week worrying about friends and family and looking at a beautiful great American city just underwater.

GORDON: Marc, I need to ask you this, and not in a finger pointing way, but you more than anyone else has a great perspective on this. We have heard over the course of the last couple of days that New Orleans has been looking at this possibility for years. And there have been questions raised as to whether or not there could have been more done to help shore the city up. What's your opinion on that?

Mr. MORIAL: I'm going to say this, that while I served as mayor, all of the disaster preparedness briefings that I received always said that if we had a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane, then all of the systems could potentially fail; that if the big one came--and this is key--that there is no system, no levee system, that you could develop, absent putting 50- to 100-foot walls around the city made of the strongest reinforced steel and concrete, that could withstand every impact.

I tell you, Ed, it seemed as though the city was going to be OK until the levees broke. And my heart sank when I heard that the levees broke, because I know the effect of that. It was always anticipated that there was the type of storm that could exceed the ability of the systems to protect the people and the city. But I would add this--I would add this. Most people always believe that that storm was remote. So this was the big one. And my appeal is for people to help. And I hope people will recognize while there's been a lot of reporting of looting, no one condones the looting. The handful of people or whatever number of people are looting do not reflect the spirit and the goodwill of the people of that city, the people of that region who are simply trying to survive so that they can be evacuated.

GORDON: Marc, I've got to ask you this before I let you go, and I only have literally about 20 seconds. But I've known you for some time now and I hear it in your voice. I hear how this has affected you. Let me ask you, realistically, do you believe in our lifetime we're going to see the Crescent City rebuild back to anything that we remotely, remotely knew?

Mr. MORIAL: I'll answer that this way. New Orleans must rebuild, and New Orleans will rebuild, however long it takes, because it's a city that's important to the nation and to the world. It must rebuild and it will rebuild.

GORDON: All right. Marc Morial, mayor of--former mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, currently the president of the National Urban League. We'll continue to watch this as it unfolds across the South, Marc.

Mr. MORIAL: Thanks, Ed.

GORDON: My best to you and your family, buddy.

Mr. MORIAL: Appreciate it.

GORDON: We'll talk to you soon.

Mr. MORIAL: Thank you.

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