RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Hurricane Laura has now weakened to a Category 2 storm as its center is moving deeper inland over Louisiana this morning, but it still has extremely dangerous winds, and forecasters had warned of an unsurvivable storm surge. The storm slammed into the Louisiana-Texas coast overnight.
NPR's John Burnett joins us now from Beaumont, Texas. Good morning, John. Just describe what has happened here, the hurricane performing differently than expected.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It really did, Rachel. You know, here in southeast Texas, I mean, they were expecting catastrophic damage and enormous storm surges, and it looks like they were really spared. I mean, I think the Port Arthur, Texas, mayor told y'all earlier this morning that they just dodged a bullet. And I've heard there is very little water.
But, boy, you go across the Sabine River there in Louisiana, and they just took a horrific pummeling. We're seeing pictures now from Lake Charles. This - you know, population is 78,000, big petrochemical center, big casinos, home of zydeco music. Oh, they took terrible punishment last night. Most buildings are just not built to withstand 120-, 130-mile-per-hour winds, whether it's residential or commercial. And, man, they just were pulverized over there.
MARTIN: So you've done this before, John. You've covered a lot of storms and hurricanes. Now we're doing it in a time of a global pandemic. How did that affect preparations?
BURNETT: Well, I think that the mayors and the governors wisely decided that they couldn't use these big, sprawling shelters where everybody's packed together in cots and, you know, having communal meals. And so they urged all of the evacuees to take advantage of all the hotel space in, you know, Shreveport, in Dallas and Austin and San Antonio, and a lot of folks did. But I know that there were some civic centers that were open for shelters in the end, but reluctantly.
MARTIN: So what now? I mean, things aren't nearly as bad as they thought they were going to be, but there are still, as we noted, these really horrible winds. Do we know the path of this storm?
BURNETT: Yeah. I mean, it's heading on up into north Louisiana, and it's going to go across Arkansas. It's going to turn east over Kentucky and even into West Virginia as a tropical depression. So - but it's vastly lower in its strength. So there'll be, you know, some tropical storm-force winds and a little bit of rain. But it's really made its mark in southwest Louisiana here in a little town of Cameron and Lake Charles. This is a historic storm for them. Families will talk about this for generations.
MARTIN: I mean, it feels almost too early to talk about recovery when the damage is still ongoing. But how does this area, John, begin to think about putting the pieces together?
BURNETT: Right. Well, first of all, you know, there are search and rescues this morning to see what - you know, if anybody's still stuck in their house, surrounded by water. And then there's the damage assessments. I know there are power lines and trees down all over. All of these huge refineries and petrochemical plants were shut down, and so the work crews will go in there to see if they're operable.
You know, we're right on Interstate 10, and I can hear outside my hotel window folks are already roaring down the highway, probably coming back to see, you know, how their house weathered the storm. So now comes a long period of rebuilding and hoping the power comes back on soon.
MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett. Thank you, John.
BURNETT: You bet, Rachel.
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