ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
When Jr. Shelton became the mayor of a city called Central, La., he wanted to attract new business, build up the economic base. Instead his term will be defined by disaster and recovery. Central is home to 27,000 people, and 25,000 of them got flooded out in the storms that swept through Louisiana two weeks ago. Our co-host Ari Shapiro met Mayor Shelton at Central city hall.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: City hall is basically a small storefront in a little strip mall. Mayor Shelton comes out wearing a T-shirt with an image of the state of Louisiana. It says, we stick together come hell or high water. He leads us back into a conference room where boxes line the walls - toiletries, diapers, bottled drinks.
JR SHELTON: Almost every state in the nation has contacted me. We've gotten stuff from Colorado, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky. So it's just been unreal.
SHAPIRO: The city sits between two rivers, and Mayor Shelton says people here have dealt with floods before but never on this scale.
SHELTON: I mean they might get an inch in their house. Maybe occasionally you might get two or three inches but nothing like this.
SHAPIRO: And you're a small-town mayor here. Was there a moment where you thought, I don't know what on Earth I'm doing here; I've never been in a situation like this?
SHELTON: This is going to sound hokey and cheesy. I've never had a worry about what to do because of the citizens and the help that we've gotten from everybody around here - never. Now, we wake up in the morning. We don't know where meals are going to come from. We don't know what materials we're going to get during the day, but it always comes.
What'll happen - I only have a secretary and a chief executive officer. I don't have a big staff. But when we know we have a truck coming in, we put it on Facebook. We'll have a truck here at 1 o'clock today. And before you know it, there's people out there in the parking lot ready to unload it.
SHAPIRO: Now, as I ride around the neighborhoods here, I can see there's not water in the street anymore, but there are huge piles of sofas, mattresses, carpeting.
SHAPIRO: When people say, what does your community need today, what is the most acute, pressing need?
SHELTON: Well, I tell everybody if they send water, for every bottle of water, send us two prayers. But in the way of materials, we cannot get too much water - bottled water. We had enough of the free-flowing water.
SHELTON: But bottled water, cleaning materials, masks. The mold is getting bad in the home, so it's difficult for breathing in there if you don't have a mask. Anybody has respirators that - you know, that's great too.
SHAPIRO: Are most people now back in their gutted home, sleeping on the bare concrete floors? Or what are people doing?
SHELTON: Yes, they are. They're in homes with Sheetrock ripped out, with no flooring, very little lighting in it, you know because, listen. When water gets up over those electrical outlets, your electrical system's shot too. But FEMA now has some very sophisticated housing units that go way beyond the old Katrina trailers.
We're encouraging folks to work with FEMA to get those to place on their property. And the reason for that is we want the folks close to their homes. It gives security for them. People aren't going to go in and damage their homes if they're living on the property. If they're working in their homes, they can take a break, go in, cool off, drink, eat and then go back to work.
SHAPIRO: I imagine you've learned more about mold than you ever thought you (laughter) would want to know.
SHELTON: I'm learning more about a whole lot of things. The truth is we have a lot of people in situations that they never thought they'd face. Imagine if you're 90 years old and you lose everything that you've ever had. How do they start over? But you go talk to our citizens, and you're not going to find anybody with their head down. They're not bellyaching. They're not crying about it. They're getting the job done.
SHAPIRO: It's hot out there.
SHAPIRO: And seeing people doing this kind of heavy physical labor in this incredible humid heat is...
SHELTON: It is hot. But it's always hot here. I've lost 14 pounds through this. I can tell you that.
SHAPIRO: Wait; really?
SHAPIRO: Is that true - in the last 10 days?
SHELTON: Absolutely. In fact I was telling somebody I didn't put a belt on today, and I'm having a hard time keeping my pants up. I mean it's just what you do.
SHAPIRO: Mayor Shelton, thank you so much for talking with us, and...
SHELTON: No, thank y'all for being here. The more we get the story out - and I want folks to understand this can happen anywhere. This is not just regionalized to Louisiana or the city of Central. We hope that we learn lessons that we can share with other cities. It's something that we'll get through, and we're going to keep our head up and move forward.
SHAPIRO: Thank you.
SHELTON: Thank you.
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