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New Orleans Says It's Ready For Hurricane Isaac


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered this news this afternoon.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Isaac has now formed into a hurricane so we are officially in the fight and the city of New Orleans is on the front lines.

CORNISH: Isaac is expected to come ashore somewhere along the Louisiana coast this evening as a category one hurricane. In addition to high winds, the National Hurricane Center is warning of potential flooding along the Gulf Coast from the hurricane storm surge and heavy rainfall. NPR's Greg Allen begins our coverage in New Orleans where officials and residents say they're ready.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In Plaquemines Parish, people take hurricanes seriously. Much of the parish is actually below sea level. Mary Roberts saw her mobile home destroyed by flood waters in Katrina. She and her husband left their new mobile home and spent last night in a shelter.

MARY ROBERTS: Well, we didn't have nowhere to go. My husband waited too long to get out so, well, we're stuck. Stuck like Chuck.

ALLEN: You've been married a long time, sounds like to me.

ROBERTS: Fifty-seven years.

ALLEN: The shelter (unintelligible) is inside the New Orleans' storm protection system. Since Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, some $14 billion have been spent upgrading New Orleans levees, flood gates and pumps. In southern Louisiana, thousands of people live outside those levees. Jane Smith has a mobile home in Durras(ph). She's less worried about Isaac's wind than the storm surge.

JANE SMITH: We're going to get surges because right on the Mississippi River. We live right on the river. We're up about four feet higher than we were, but you don't know. We didn't think Katrina was going to do that and, all of a sudden, it exploded.

ALLEN: Several hundred people are staying in shelters in Plaquemine Parish. Many are here because they live in an area where the Parish levee is still under construction. Councilman Percy Griffin says the parish is working on strengthening and raising the earthen levee. But with a storm surge forecast as high as 11 feet in that area, Griffin says the parish government decided to order a mandatory evacuation.

COUNCILMAN PERCY GRIFFIN: We get a big storm surge, I mean, then nothing's going to help. You know, so what you try to do is minimize the damage, you know. So we hopefully, this thing won't do as much damage nowhere close to what Katrina did.

ALLEN: Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in several parishes, but not in the city of New Orleans. The city's levee system is designed to protect it against a category three hurricane. Isaac is expected to be weaker. As Isaac has put a bulls-eye on the city, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has steadily worked to deliver a dual message to residents. Make your storm preparations, but don't worry, we'll be okay.

Today, he noted the Army Corp of Engineers closed for the first time a massive storm surge protection barrier east of the city.

LANDRIEU: It is protecting New Orleans east and the lower ninth ward and Saint Bernard Parish, that has never been done in America before and that wall is now up. We closed the gate this morning at about 10:30 or 11:00 and so that part of the city is secure from a tidal surge that was similar to the one that came during Katrina.

ALLEN: Isaac is no Katrina, but throughout Louisiana, from the governor to residents staying in shelters, people say they're taking the storm seriously. One reason may be the timing. It's projected to make landfall tonight just one day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Although winds may not be as intense as Katrina, because Isaac is moving so slowly, they may linger over the area longer.

Also, meteorologists are warning that some areas may see flooding from a foot or more of rainfall. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he has more than 4,000 National Guard troops ready to help and relief supplies prepositioned throughout the state and he thinks Louisianans are ready for Isaac.

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: Obviously, we're going to be prepared to go out there with water, search and rescue missions and other search and rescue missions for folks that may be in harm's way. But I think our folks have been through multiple storms. I think they're resilient and I think that they've heard their local leaders tell them for many years now the importance of having a game plan.

ALLEN: Jindal has already asked and received from the White House a disaster declaration, allowing federal aid to begin flowing almost immediately. But today he said that wasn't enough. He's now asking the federal government to reimburse Louisiana for all storm-related expenses. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.