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Hurricane Ida Strikes The Gulf Coast 16 Years After Katrina


Hurricanes like Ida are likely to be larger and cause greater havoc and destruction when they form over hotter ocean water as climate change causes global sea surface temperatures to rise. While it made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 miles an hour, killing at least one person, it appears, though, to have weakened to a tropical storm as it moves up Louisiana and then into Mississippi. And while officials are still taking stock about its toll on the Gulf Coast, it's taken far fewer lives than Katrina did when it hit the region 16 years ago to the day. NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from New Orleans. John, tell us what you're seeing so far this morning.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, A. Well, I've been driving around, finally got out of the hotel after a harrowing day of a hurricane winds. I'm out here with producer Liz Baker, and we are putting eyes on the damage. And it's really something. There are uprooted trees all over the region, some that landed on houses, on fences. Some have torn up pipes that are in the ground. We've seen in Audubon Park, which is, you know, the crown jewel of American parks - and it's in the middle of uptown New Orleans. And all these great old live oak trees, some that are hundreds of years old, there are live oak limbs everywhere. You almost can't see the ground there are so many. It's an extraordinary sight. You know, it just - it blew all day yesterday.

We talked to one gentleman who said that it was just hell. It sort of started in the morning, and it just went on and on and on and on and into the night. And so really, there is going to be a massive amount of debris to clean up. And, of course, there is no power - 750,000 businesses and homes are without power in the greater New Orleans area. We know that a huge transmission tower that had eight electrical lines on it toppled into the Mississippi River. And so that's partly responsible for the great blackout that has gripped this whole region.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the people that live there, what are you hearing from them?

BURNETT: Yeah, you know, people are kind of walking out of their houses in a daze now. Some are starting to rake up. Some are walking their dogs. They're just, you know, checking out the damage. Some are starting generators because of fear that, you know, it could be weeks without power around here. And as I said, you know, some of the folks that we talked to this morning wish that they had evacuated. It was a really terrifying day yesterday. And they say if this happens again, they're going to pack up several days ahead of time to avoid the gridlock traffic on Interstate 10, and they're going to get out of this region. But what Governor John Bel Edwards said at a press conference yesterday was he wants people to not drive around and rubberneck, but to hunker down and stay put today.


JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Quite frankly, we can't tell you yet how soon it will be before first responders are going to be able to respond to calls for assistance. So please don't go out. And the extent to which individuals decide to get out and about will inhibit the flow of first responders and search and rescue assets, high water vehicles and so forth. So please be patient.

MARTÍNEZ: I know that the Louisiana National Guard is on the ground assisting with the effort. Have you seen any recovery or restoration efforts so far?

BURNETT: Very little at this point, A. I mean, people are just getting out. We're just starting to see some utility trucks, a few backhoes, some bulldozers and Bobcats. But really, you know, people are having to stop and go. All the intersections have dead lights. It's really chaotic. And we don't really see any repair, recovery, restoration efforts yet. That'll be in the, you know, the hours and days to come.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's John Burnett in New Orleans. John, thanks a lot.

BURNETT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.