Still Reeling from Katrina, Louisiana Deals with Rita
ED GORDON, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
Rita has come and gone. What once had been a powerful Category 5 hurricane swept across parts of the Texas and Louisiana on Saturday. Thousands were evacuated. Texas Governor Rick Perry, surveying the damage from the air on Sunday, remarked that his state, with the exceptions of Beaumont and Port Arthur, had missed a bullet. In Louisiana, cities and towns still recovering from the flooding left by Katrina were once again inundated by water. In some areas parallel to the Gulf of Mexico, entire houses were reportedly wiped away. I'm joined by two reporters covering the ongoing crisis in Louisiana. Beth Fertig is with member station KRVS in Lafayette, Louisiana. She joins us via phone. And NPR's Cheryl Corley joins us from New Orleans.
Cheryl, let me start with you. We're hearing so much from Mayor Ray Nagin, who wants people now to return to the driest parts of New Orleans. You were there. What do you see? What will they be coming home to?
CHERYL CORLEY reporting:
A mess, if I can put it like that. Well, there are some areas that are in not bad shape, and those are the areas that he is talking about. The Algiers neighborhood, for instance, that was not flooded by the waters that really inundated some sections of New Orleans. And also in the business district itself, which is the French Quarter, that didn't have any floodwaters either. But in any neighborhood you go into, you see homes and businesses that had really significant wind damage. They just look uninhabitable, and that's what people will be coming back to for the most part. In Algiers, though, there are homes that are in good shape. There are businesses that have even opened up. And even here in the central business district, you have a couple of restaurants who have opened up as well. So, you know, people are trying to put the best face on it, but New Orleans really has a long way to go, I think.
GORDON: And, Cheryl, what have the people that you've been able to talk to that are there, that have either ridden this storm out or those who have been able to return--some people talk about the realization of what has happened is now just setting in. What are you finding?
CORLEY: Well, you know, this is still pretty much a ghost town, except for the Algiers area, where you have a number of people coming in. And I think the folks who do come in and see what's happened here, they're really shocked. I mean, you see some images on television, of course, and you have an idea, but when people come back and see their own homes, you know, it's really kind of a shocking realization that New Orleans has a lot of work to do. But I must say, though, that the people who have come and who have decided to stay, they're really optimistic. They really call New Orleans home and want this city to build again.
GORDON: Beth, so much has been made on a national level about New Orleans, but the outlying areas of Louisiana were hit just as hard. You're in western Louisiana, and in terms of power and getting back up on one's feet, where do areas like Lafayette stand?
BETH FERTIG reporting:
Well, Lafayette wasn't hit very hard at tall. I mean, there were areas that lost power. The city is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive west of New Orleans, and it's about, you know, 90 miles east of the Texas border, and it's also a bit inland. It's about 30 miles from the Gulf Coast, so you have to picture this as an area that was not touched at all by Hurricane Katrina but did get tons of evacuees and people who came fleeing west from Katrina. So suddenly this area is now gearing up for a hurricane of its own, especially the low-lying areas. And those were the areas that were hardest hit, the areas closest to the water, to the Gulf, to the marshes, the bayous, the area where Louisiana isn't really land so much as marsh.
And so Lafayette, being a little bit more inland, is a place that people fled to, or they would have liked to flee to, actually, but they couldn't because there were so many people from Katrina here, so they were told to keep going north. However, Lafayette did take people from some of the areas who just had no place to go, like Lake Charles and Vermillion Parish, which is south of here. And they wound up taking people who were in the CajunDome from Hurricane Katrina--the CajunDome is the sports facility at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. There were about 900 or a thousand of them left as of Thursday. And they were worried that the CajunDome's roof wouldn't be able to withstand a strong storm if it came through. So they bused them north to Shreveport and then wound up having to take about 250 evacuees from this area, who were in lower parishes, you know, near the water, the areas that were under mandatory evacuation because of flooding, and they housed them in the convention center next door to the Dome itself, because it turned out that the Dome's roof was not able to withstand the flooding and the storm, and it leaked.
So now you have those people who were evacuated from the low-lying areas south and west of Lafayette staying in the convention center by the CajunDome, and the people who were originally there from New Orleans are going to be bused back on Wednesday from Shreveport, because they have to give the other people a chance to resettle before they can move people back who were the original evacuees, so to speak.
FERTIG: So that's--you know, those are some of the logistical complications going on around here, but that's not to de-emphasize the effect on this area of the storm itself. I mean, south of Lafayette and west is where you have some real trouble, people stranded on rooftops and rescue missions still going on.
GORDON: Yeah, it's an amazing puzzle to see how it's all pieced together. Beth Fertig of member station KRVS in Lafayette, Louisiana, and NPR's Cheryl Corley--she joins us from New Orleans--I thank you both and greatly appreciate it.
FERTIG: You're welcome.