RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It has been just over a week since Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana. Electricity is slowly being restored in New Orleans. Many small towns along the Gulf Coast are still reeling after this storm. The extreme wind and the devastating storm surge flattened some communities. Other towns are isolated by floodwaters. NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from New Orleans. Brian, good morning. As we mentioned, now it's been more than a week. Some power is now coming back on. Is that right?
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah, there has been progress, Rachel. Parts of New Orleans do have power. Services are improving here. More stores are reopening. But, you know, there's still not safe drinking water. A lot of the city is still dark, and it's hard to get gasoline. Government officials did open a new shelter yesterday for people who are vulnerable because of serious medical conditions. That gives them a place to go for care where they can also escape the really serious heat and humidity here. So, yeah, progress for sure - but New Orleans still has a long way to go before it gets to anything like normalcy.
MARTIN: I understand you spent the weekend driving to small towns along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. What'd you find?
MANN: You know, the level of devastation is awesome, kind of stunning. These are some places where Ida doesn't really seem to have gone away. Just outside Ironton, La., I reached a place where the road just ended. And I met Jim McGuire (ph), who needed to use a boat to get out to see his home.
JIM MCGUIRE: We've been - it's tough. This is worse - actually, it's worse than Katrina hit here, far as the water's concerned. We had some serious wind.
MANN: He told me he found his house swamped by mud and muck thrown up by the storm. So with that highway south of New Orleans blocked, I backtracked and caught a ferry across the Mississippi River.
The day was windlass and the sun blistering. On the far side of the river in this tiny little town called Phoenix, I met Yaquiane Ancar working with her family, hauling sofas and mattresses out of their house.
YAQUIANE ANCAR: Right now we're dealing with mold, the flood from the water from the roof, the floors being damaged and the walls and everything falling apart. It's a lot to recover from.
MANN: Ancar said her family has enough food and water. They're cooking on a charcoal grill. But they still haven't had any contact with FEMA or other aid programs. They don't have insurance, and Ancar said she's not sure what to do.
ANCAR: So we're looking forward for someone to, you know, come and help us out with some things, and hopefully things go great for us.
MANN: I heard this again and again, hope as people start cleaning up and rebuilding, but also exhaustion and confusion. I did see FEMA centers and aid stations along the road as I drove. But the scale of this disaster is daunting, and a lot of these towns are really isolated. People told me it's hard to get good information. There's still no power. Cellphone service is spotty. There's no internet. There are mile-long lines just to get gasoline.
(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE BEEPING)
MANN: But help is arriving to dig out these towns and haul away debris. On Grand Isle, at the very tip of southern Louisiana, a National Guard bulldozer was clearing dunes of sand that Ida dropped on the main road. But here again, the scale of work ahead is hard to wrap your mind around. A lot of the houses on this barrier island are just gone, sheared away.
JULES BOLBEN: It makes you wonder, where do you start? Where do you start?
MANN: Jules Bolben was checking on his vacation camp, which sits up high on pilings. Looking out from the deck, Bolben said he's not sure what will happen next to this town.
BOLBEN: I got a feeling a lot of people won't be back, some people that got totally destroyed.
MANN: A couple miles down the road, I climbed a ladder to talk with Jim King. His house, too, sits up high on pilings, a precaution after the last big storm.
JIM KING: We moved down here three months before Katrina and lost everything we owned and started over again.
MANN: King is 75 years old. He rode out Ida right here. Part of the house broke off while he was inside.
KING: You can't describe anything 'cause all it was was wind and rain. You can't see nothing or hear nothing but rain and wind.
MANN: King said his wife, who didn't want to talk with me, went to a shelter during Ida. King said she thinks he was crazy for staying. And when he saw how much destruction there was, he agreed with her. Now they've been told they might have to make do for a month without electricity, using their generator and camping out in their RV. King said he really loves it here, but sometimes it's hard to remember why.
KING: (Laughter) You know, there's some good and some bad, let me tell you what.
MANN: And this, too, was the thing people told me as they begin to rebuild one more time. They love life on this coast, but it's getting harder to sustain.
Brian Mann, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.