New Orleans Misses Worst of Hurricane Katrina Alex Chadwick speaks to John Burnett, hunkered down in a hotel room in New Orleans, about the latest on the hurricane. Forecasters feared a Category 5 storm would hit the coastal city head-on, but the hurricane lost some strength before landfall Monday morning.
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New Orleans Misses Worst of Hurricane Katrina

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New Orleans Misses Worst of Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans Misses Worst of Hurricane Katrina

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The hurricane pictures on television are so amazing, the story from New Orleans is so compelling, that no matter where you are in the country today, when you look outside, you expect to see rain. But the real thing is happening along the Gulf Coast and inland where Hurricane Katrina is blowing hard. NPR's John Burnett is in New Orleans. He joins us now.

John, you've been outside. What did you see?

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

Well, Alex, I kept trying to go outside, to go out and meet some of the folks coming back to their houses, but it's entirely too early for that. This is a huge hurricane, and the tail of it, the western edge of it, is taking its time moving up into land, and so we still have some very strong winds outside, and there is a lot of sharp roofing material that's blowing around like razors, so there's really not many folks out and about yet. I know the National Guard has just begun in those big deuce and a half trucks of theirs to go out and do some assessments, and what they're finding is--one of the most distressing things that's happened is the famous lower 9th Ward of New Orleans--for any of the listeners who know the Crescent City--really got hit hard. That's where there was a big breach in the levee. It's the industrial canal that leads into the Mississippi River. And so we've heard reports of people on tops of houses, of a woman in an attic trying to, you know--concerned that the flood waters were gonna trap her in there. So that is an area of great concern. A lot of the city is not in near those dire circumstances. More like one, two feet of water on the ground. Nothing like, you know, up to the rooftops.

CHADWICK: The storm actually turned this morning before it hit New Orleans and moved a little bit east. It's gone up into Mississippi now. So really, the worst expectations were not met.

BURNETT: Well, that's true, and yet some of the people who I talked to, some of the older residents from the neighborhoods around here who actually sought refuge in our hotel last night said this is the worst hurricane they have ever been through in their lives. That includes Hurricane Camille in 1969. That includes Hurricane Betsy in 1965. This is the storm of the century for them, and yet they also realize it could have been so much worse and, you know, they're grateful that it wasn't the catastrophe that folks had predicted.

CHADWICK: This is a big hotel you're in. Do you have power there? Isn't power out in a lot of the city?

BURNETT: Yeah, New Orleans doesn't have anything at this point. The utilities are all out. There's no water, there's no electricity. We do have, thankfully, this phone line, although the loss of--I think a cell phone tower must be out because ours are dead as well, so...

CHADWICK: I heard your interview earlier today on "Morning Edition." They were talking to you live on the air and, bang, suddenly you were gone.

BURNETT: Welcome to--yeah, to hurricane conditions. Things are very capricious here, and they're gonna continue to be, I think, until late today when we can all really get out and see what this monster storm has done to this lovely old city.

CHADWICK: Let me just ask you about the people who are at the Superdome, which is where people who couldn't leave the city and didn't have any other alternative, that's where they went. How are things there, do you know?

BURNETT: Well, I haven't been over there, but I have heard that, you know, as I think everyone knows, parts of the ceiling were peeled off, and we know that their conditions are the same as here. There's no electricity, there's no air conditioning. In fact, they don't have food. We have food here. There's no water. I suspect that it's very unpleasant inside that refuge for the 25, 30,000 people who are there. Very anxious to get back to their neighborhoods.

CHADWICK: NPR's John Burnett in New Orleans.

Thank you, John.

BURNETT: You're welcome, Alex.

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