Returning to New Orleans

News Analyst Cokie Roberts talks about her first visit back to New Orleans, her hometown, since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Roberts made the trip to take her mother, a former member of Congress, home to the city she knows and adores.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Normally, on Monday mornings we talk to our news analyst, Cokie Roberts, about the political situation at the moment. This morning, we're going to talk to Cokie about the situation of her hometown, New Orleans. Cokie has just returned from her first visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and she's with us now. Cokie, welcome.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: You spoke to us on the morning the hurricane hit, Monday, August 29th, and you said this about your home city.

(Soundbite from interview, August 29th)

ROBERTS: It is a city that has withstood so many things over its storied history, and the idea that the levees could break is really something that is almost impossible to contemplate.

INSKEEP: Now we've had a couple of months to contemplate this, and it's still hard to get your mind around.

ROBERTS: Well, of course, you have been there, Steve. I had not. And you have that experience. Any of us who's covered disasters, which most of us have, where you usually see a terrible area and then you see normalcy, there is nothing normal. You just see mile after mile of this devastation. And so many little moments of it that just hit you. The Army is guarding the yacht club, and it's very hard to feel sympathetic for people with yachts. But they let me in and these yachts are all topsy-turvy on top of each other, and what is covering them are trillions of seagulls. Little looters that have come in and they are just covering the yachts, making the biggest racket you could possibly imagine. And, you know, just sort of back to nature. And you feel that way about so much of the city, except there is no nature. It's all brown. There's nothing green. The water must have been so filthy that anything the water touched has died.

And then there are these islands of normalcy. The French Quarter's looking pretty good. The Garden District uptown are looking pretty good. But there are no kids. Some schools have finally opened and I saw some kids playing dodge ball. It was so wonderful in their little parochial school uniforms. And there are very few black people in a city that has been majority African-American. It's so odd to be in New Orleans and see so many white people.

INSKEEP: When you talk to people who have been the elites of that city, do you think they have a good sense of what to do next?

ROBERTS: Everybody is waiting for some leader. It is remarkable how that is true. This failure of leadership is so keenly felt, and everybody just keeps saying somebody has to come in here and make this work. And they're all trying very hard to make it work. They're back. They're trying. They're having trouble hiring people because there's no housing. But the city officials say it's going to be up and running. I believe it will be up and running. But it does have at the moment still such a sense of disaster it--the television, local programs, still have the crawl--the thing underneath--telling you emergency numbers to call. There are still 4,000 people missing. It's an incredible number two months later. And so, there's this...

INSKEEP: That's more people than were killed in the World Trade Center.

ROBERTS: That's right. And there's this strong sense that the country has got to get together and support New Orleans and some leader has to come forward to do that.

INSKEEP: Cokie, how's your mom?

ROBERTS: Well, she's a very tough lady and she has, of course, dedicated her life to this city. And I'll tell you one thing. People were awfully glad to see her home.

INSKEEP: She has returned now to New Orleans?

ROBERTS: She is there.

INSKEEP: And she is living on Bourbon Street as I understand?

ROBERTS: Her Bourbon Street house needs some repairs. She's staying with a friend on Charter Street. But people just were thrilled to see her back.

INSKEEP: How old is your mother now?

ROBERTS: She'll be 90 in March.

INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness. And she's not going anywhere. She can't imagine going anywhere, I'll bet.

ROBERTS: She very much wants to be home.

INSKEEP: Does she have any advice? This is a woman who--with great experience in public policy among other things. Does she have any advice for her fellow citizens?

ROBERTS: Her advice would be pick up, move on. We've got to get it done. But she would also agree that the country has to help.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Cokie's a native of New Orleans, which her mother, Lindy Boggs, represented in Congress.

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