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New Orleans's Recover From Hurricane Ida's Damage Has Been Slow

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The situation in Louisiana is tenuous, two days after Hurricane Ida blasted ashore with 150 mph winds. Search and rescue crews are still trying to get to many of the hardest-hit areas along the coast. Power is out to more than 1 million homes and businesses across the southeastern part of the state, including in New Orleans. It could be weeks or longer before the lights get switched back on. Joining us now is Aubri Juhasz of member station WWNO in New Orleans.

Welcome.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So tell us about the situation in New Orleans right now.

JUHASZ: Yeah, it's not great. The power grid suffered catastrophic damage during the storm...

FADEL: Yeah.

JUHASZ: ...Not just to power electrical lines and power poles in the neighborhoods but the main system that brings electricity into the region. Those eight large power lines are all offline, and there's no estimate as to when any of it will be fixed. So even if they get the lines in the neighborhoods restored, it won't really matter because the big power systems aren't working.

The other concern is that, you know, it's really hot down here. It was in the 90s today, and the heat index was above 100. It's muggy. And for a region accustomed to air conditioning, it's really tough living for those who stayed behind. But even more so than that, you know, it's not just about being uncomfortable. It's potentially dangerous. The city did say today that they're going to send public transit buses into neighborhoods so people can get on board and cool down, at least for a little bit until those buses leave and go to other neighborhoods.

FADEL: So you've talked about a potentially dangerous situation, and you've been talking with people who decided not to evacuate. What are they doing now?

JUHASZ: Yeah, they have the tough decision of deciding, you know, whether to stay or go. You know, when you leave, it becomes difficult to come back, and you're leaving a lot behind. A lot of people were saying they wanted to wait until we had a timeline estimate from the power company. We were hoping for an update today, and the day's not over yet, but we still haven't gotten one.

But people are - you know, they're really fearing the worst the longer they go without news. And the assumption is that we could be without power for maybe more than a month. I caught up with Pierre LaFrance. I talked to him as he pulled into a supermarket to get ice for his cooler. He was, you know, literally loading up the car to drive to Texas.

PIERRE LAFRANCE: Well, they said it's going to be a while before they restore power. So yeah, we're just going to head on out.

JUHASZ: How have the last couple days been?

LAFRANCE: Taxing - it's been taxing. But I mean, we're surviving. We're used to the hurricanes. So we're just thankful that we have somewhere else to go, to relocate for right now.

JUHASZ: Yeah, but not everybody can leave on their own. I met 72-year-old Barbara Gordon, who had walked an hour to the convention center hoping there would be an evacuation bus, but there wasn't. She told me she just really wants to leave.

BARBARA GORDON: Even if they have to put us up in hotels in another state, as long - just some place with air conditioning.

JUHASZ: The state has buses contracted to evacuate people, but they're not using them yet.

FADEL: The hurricane hit Louisiana at a pretty difficult time - a fourth wave of COVID. It seems like one trauma after another for the region.

JUHASZ: It really is. You know, we were having a record surge in cases. People have been really, really beaten down. And we were hoping that despite the surge, we could maybe get back to normal. Schools just reopened. Now they've been closed indefinitely. So people are really hurting, and it's a really uncertain time. And people just were hoping we were going to be getting back to normal - music festivals, Mardi Gras. And now that just is impossible.

FADEL: Aubri Juhasz of member station WWNO in New Orleans, thank you so much.

JUHASZ: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.