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Hurricane Ida: What To Expect In The Next 24 Hours

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hurricane Ida came ashore in southeast Louisiana today as a high Category 4 with 150 mph winds. It's now one of the strongest storms in Louisiana history and extremely dangerous. Here's President Biden speaking to reporters this afternoon at a briefing with FEMA officials.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is going to be a devastating, a devastating hurricane, a life-threatening storm. So please, all you folks in Mississippi and in Louisiana - Mississippi, and God knows, maybe even further east, take precautions. Listen, take it seriously.

MARTIN: We have NPR's John Burnett on the line with us from New Orleans, where he is waiting out the storm. John, thank you so much for talking to us.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So what's the latest you can tell us?

BURNETT: Well, our hotel is right here on St. Charles. And I'm looking out at the - the window at these great live oaks that line the avenue, festooned with Mardi Gras beads. They're heaving and swaying with these wind gusts that surpassed 70 mph now. And the rain is blowing horizontally. The wind and the rain is supposed to get worse all afternoon. Forecasters tell us to expect as much of three inches of rain an hour when these big saturated bands of moisture roll in off the Gulf. We know that tens of thousands of folks have lost power. We've been hearing transformers around the city blow up in the last few hours. They sound like gunshots. But we're a hundred miles or so from where the real damage is, in Port Fourchon, Houma and Thibodaux. We're hearing reports that the little town of Grand Isle that's perched on a sandbar on the southern edge of the state is taking a terrible walloping. It's effectively become part of the Gulf of Mexico.

MARTIN: Now, John, we know that the mayor of New Orleans did not call for a mandatory evacuation. It was voluntary. It's my understanding that was in part because the trajectory of the storm changed so quickly, that it - were worried that people would get stuck on the roads.

BURNETT: Yeah.

MARTIN: But what can you tell us about how residents are doing where you are?

BURNETT: Well, people have a high degree of confidence in this state-of-the-art levee and floodwall system that now encircles greater New Orleans. You recall after Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall 16 years ago today, the Army Corps of Engineers spent billions of dollars to armor the levees and build these elaborate floodgates to keep out the storm surge. The governor said today he wants to assure folks that the new hurricane protection system and the old Mississippi River levee will hold.

But I can tell you, Michel, that some residents who live close to these flood walls, the structures that literally make habitation possible in this city - plenty nervous. Here's Ron Pedigo - lives in St. Bernard Parish, which went underwater during Katrina. We met him this morning in front of his house where he was securing anything that might fly around in the wind.

RON PEDIGO: I've been out there with the levees. They look big. But again, if it has any weak spots or if a big boat hits it, you know, crashes into one or something like that, that's what we got to worry about.

BURNETT: And what is it holding back? What body of water?

PEDIGO: You got Bayou Bienvenue. You got Pontchartrain. You got Lake Borgne all right...

BURNETT: You're...

PEDIGO: ...Here. Yeah.

BURNETT: You're kind of surrounded...

PEDIGO: Yeah.

BURNETT: ...By water here.

PEDIGO: Mississippi's over here. Yeah, you're in a bowl.

BURNETT: You're literally surrounded.

PEDIGO: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, John, what should we expect from Ida in the next 24 hours?

BURNETT: Well, it's going to continue curving to the northeast, bringing heavy rain to Mississippi, northern Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky. Here in Louisiana, it'll be tomorrow morning before folks probably get out and survey damage. And then these 10,000 electrical linemen that have been on standby with their cherry-picker trucks will start the laborious work of putting up new utility poles and stringing wires. Of course, that'll take weeks.

But we're not out of the woods, Michel. A lot of people in this state are waiting to see how the floodwalls hold, how their homes will hold up in this historic storm. I mean, at one point in his presser this afternoon, Governor Edwards calmly said, y'all need to get a mattress and be ready to put it over you if your roof comes off and debris starts falling on you.

MARTIN: Well, that's NPR's John Burnett joining us from New Orleans. John, thank you.

BURNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.