ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Part of what's always leant New Orleans its distinctive charm were the broad shady oaks that lined city streets. Urban arborists had feared that the trees would die after weeks with their roots under that polluted floodwater. Now the tree experts are getting a chance to see what happened. NPR's Nell Boyce reports.
NELL BOYCE reporting:
Hallie Dozier is an urban forester at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She and some other scientists went to New Orleans last week to see how its greenery had faired after the storm and the flood. They drove in with a sense of dread.
Ms. HALLIE DOZIER (Louisiana State University): The loss of live oaks would just be untenable. It would be very, very difficult to handle just in terms of what it would do to the spirit of the people in the places where the trees are gone.
BOYCE: At first glance, things looked pretty bad. Everything was brown like it was winter. Broken branches covered the ground. Magnolia trees looked totally dead. But Dozier's spirits rose when she finally got to see the oaks.
Ms. DOZIER: The live oaks look great. They're battered. They're battered from the wind. There's no doubt, but by and large, I was very, very happy and very encouraged.
BOYCE: She thinks that when people come back to this devastated city, they'll get a boost from seeing these old neighbors standing tall. Coleen Perilloux Landry feels the same way. She's the only human member of the Live Oak Society. It's a historic club that has 5,000 members, and they're all trees.
Ms. COLEEN PERILLOUX LANDRY (Live Oak Society): The oaks look great. A lot have already put on new flushes of leaves. I can almost hear them saying, `Here we are. We're still here. Where are the people?'
BOYCE: She is worried about one member, a resident of City Park.
Ms. LANDRY: It's called The Walking Oak. It looks like a giant spider walking on the ground and children play on it all the time. And it was in the lowest spot and sat in water the longest. But I did notice after the rains of Hurricane Rita, it looked a little better, so we'll just have to wait and see. But overall, I think we have saved 85 to 90 percent of our live oaks.
BOYCE: Landry and other tree lovers will be watching for long-term effects from the shock of flooding, and scientists like Hallie Dozier are taking soil samples to check for toxins. For now experts say the biggest danger comes from the frantic rebuilding of the city as people bring bulldozers and chain saws near these already weakened trees. Nell Boyce, NPR News.
CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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