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Biden Visits Areas Damaged By Hurricane Ida In Louisiana


President Biden visited southeastern Louisiana today to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida. The powerful storm blasted ashore on Sunday with 150 mile-an-hour winds. It destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings before the storm weakened and moved up the U.S., where it did even more damage, killing more than 40 people in the northeast. In New Orleans and the surrounding area, hundreds of thousands of people are still without power and other services like water. And NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from New Orleans.

Brian, the president spent part of the day on the ground there. What did he say?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah. President Biden landed here in New Orleans, where he met families and hugged people who really bore the full weight of the storm. And President Biden talked about the fact this storm was incredibly powerful up the East Coast, where, as you mentioned, the death toll has continued to rise and also talking, Ari, about this storm in the context of climate change. He said things have changed so drastically in terms of the environment. You've already crossed a certain threshold, he said, and then talked about rebuilding infrastructure tougher to withstand this kind of storm.

SHAPIRO: In situations like this, we often see that people die after a storm passes through, and that happened in Louisiana. Some people lost their lives yesterday. Explain what the threat is now.

MANN: Yeah, that's right. With the electric grid still down in much of this part of the state, people are running generators, often without knowing how to use them properly. A woman and her two children died of carbon monoxide poisoning yesterday. Officials say the family put the generator right next to their house, which allowed the fumes to collect inside. Here's fire chief Dave Tibbetts with the Jefferson Parish East Bank Fire Department speaking at a briefing.


DAVE TIBBETTS: As a parish, we've responded to over 70 calls for service in dealing with carbon monoxide detectors or people feeling ill from carbon monoxide poisoning.

MANN: And there have been numerous fires and fire-related injuries here in Louisiana also caused by these generators. And another problem here, Ari, is that some roads and bridges are still so badly damaged, fire crews just aren't able to respond when houses do catch flame.

SHAPIRO: How is the progress going in getting power back on for people?

MANN: Well, there is some progress. Lights are coming on steadily. Officials say they've actually been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the service has come on in some areas. Entergy, the main utility company, says there are nearly 26,000 crew members out in the field now. Power restored to about a quarter million people - that's their estimate. But, really, damage to the power grid was so catastrophic, there aren't even predictions yet for when power will come back on for some of these hardest-hit areas on the coast. In some areas, it could be weeks.

SHAPIRO: What are people you talk to telling you? How are they holding up?

MANN: Well, it's hot. It's very, very humid. So people are weary, and they're impatient. I met and spoke with Neil Hamilton from New Orleans, and he was at a gas station nearly two hours away in Biloxi, Miss., because gasoline supplies here in New Orleans have been cut off as well. He's been driving back and forth to fill jerry jugs with gas to keep his generator going, exhausted, and says he's convinced these big hurricanes like Ida are getting more dangerous and more frequent because of climate change.

NEIL HAMILTON: Definitely getting worse - I own a landscape company. I've been out in the sun for a while. And, I mean, you can tell. I mean, people can keep denying it, but Mother Nature's going to always win in the end. She's going to prove it to you.

MANN: One big piece of good news here, Ari, is that New Orleans' levee system did hold up. This was built after Katrina. And also just that there have been so few lost lives here - that's pretty miraculous.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Brian Mann in New Orleans.

Thank you.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.