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After Ida, Many In Louisiana Still Without Power And Water


Sitting between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the parish of St. John the Baptist is nearly surrounded by water - lakes on three sides, the Mississippi River running through the middle. This week, large parts of it were underwater after Hurricane Ida swept through. Nearly 800 people have been rescued. Jaclyn Hotard is president of St. John the Baptist Parish. Welcome.

JACLYN HOTARD: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: What do things look like in the parish right now today?

HOTARD: It's devastating, you know, the damage that the entire parish has sustained. I will say that we do have many resources on the ground, and so that's something on a positive note. FEMA's mobilizing. Red Cross is mobilizing. I do appreciate you all helping us get information out to the residents. We've been severely cut off, if you will, because of the communication problems that we've had. You know, for 30 hours, we had no way to communicate with anyone, and it's still severely challenged. In fact, when I leave the office, I don't even have a cell phone that has good service. So it's really made it difficult.

SHAPIRO: I mentioned that 800 people in the parish have been rescued. Do you have any idea how many are still there and what kind of conditions they're living in? I mean, do they have water, power, anything?

HOTARD: We have no electricity in the entire parish. For a period of time, there was no water in the entire parish. We are slowly restoring water to some areas. However, as water is being restored, residents will sometimes see the little bit of pressure that they have disappear while pressure continues to build. And so, you know, that will continue to happen, but the majority of the parish is still completely without water.

SHAPIRO: What guidance can you give people about how long power is likely to be out in the parish?

HOTARD: The only, you know, real guidance that we're getting from Entergy, who provides all of the energy here - electricity - is that they are still conducting assessments and that all of our substations are damaged. I don't want to, you know, say that it's going to be three weeks and it's not. I don't even want to guess on it, but it's going to take an extended period of time for electricity to come up. I believe that will be the last utility that will be restored.

SHAPIRO: The city of New Orleans lost power, but didn't flood the way your parish did. What new challenges does that create - the water?

HOTARD: It creates many challenges. And unlike Hurricane Isaac, where it was simply a flooding event - and not that it wasn't horrible, we had over 7,000 homes flood - the devastation wasn't parish-wide nor did we have the amount of damage to our infrastructure. You know, we had a flood event mixed with a wind event mixed with a rain event - 17 inches of rain, 5 feet of storm surge and wind gusts 100 miles an hour plus. Some people flooded and the roof came off and it rained in. Some people, the roof came off and it rained in. I've seen homes that are completely leveled.

Some of the individuals that have been out there and done more assessments have said that the damage in St. John appears to be worse than many of our surrounding parishes right now who also suffered damage. And that makes this event unique also because it's not isolated to one part of Louisiana. You know, Lafourche and Terrebonne and St. Charles are all struggling for the same resources, and that's making this a little bit more difficult as well.

SHAPIRO: I understand your parish actually grew after Hurricane Katrina because people resettled there when it was one of the first places to recover. This must be like reliving a nightmare for some of the people who live in the parish. What are you hearing from them?

HOTARD: It is, and especially for those people who flooded in Hurricane Isaac. You know, probably the majority of the flooding we have had for Ida are the same people who flooded for Isaac, and some of those people moved here because they flooded in Katrina. And so it's a very disheartening situation. And, you know, our biggest challenge, if you will, with storm surge is that we don't have a hurricane protection levee. However, Congress fully funded our hurricane protection levee, and that is in the works of being constructed, but it's not scheduled to be completed until 2024.

SHAPIRO: Jaclyn Hotard is the president of St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana. Thank you and stay safe.

HOTARD: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.