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Tens Of Thousands Of Vehicles Were Destroyed In Recent La. Floods


Here's one aftereffect of the flooding in Louisiana - receding waters left behind thousands of cars and trucks, no longer in any condition to drive. Jesse Hardman reports on life without them.

JESSE HARDMAN, BYLINE: Tow truck driver Ronnie Stewart pulls up to an idle Toyota Avalon. The headlights look like half-full fishbowls. Water sloshes around inside them.

RONNIE STEWART: You see the moisture on the inside of those windows? It looks like it's fogged out. All of the flood cars look like that.

HARDMAN: Stewart lights a Marlboro and pokes around inside the car, finding a dead iPhone. He says as people abandoned their cars in rising waters, they left behind cell phones, wallets, even guns. Stewart guesses he's hauled over 300 cars the last two weeks. He says many of them were full of a mucky mixture of river sediment and sewer water. They remind him of the muddy homes crawfish dig in southern Louisiana. And the smell - that reminds him of something local, too.

STEWART: Between fish and a hog pen.

HARDMAN: Stewart backs up to the car and hitches it to his tow truck.


STEWART: Stewart Towing, can I help you?

HARDMAN: Ronnie Stuart gets about 10 calls over the course of an hour.

STEWART: OK, we'll take care of it for you, buddy.

HARDMAN: During that hour, he passes by a woman pushing a grocery cart packed with supplies down the road and teenagers driving a horse-drawn carriage.

STEWART: Everybody is so used to running and jumping in their car and going where they want to go. But this come about, it stopped everything. You're down to no cars or maybe one car.

HARDMAN: On the way back to his lot, Ronnie Stewart passes by the local fairgrounds, where most of his cars will wind up. There are so many vehicles parked here - Stewart estimates 15,000 - that it looks like the parish fair's going on. But these cars will never be driven again.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Y'all was in line after these people. Please, that's why I said...

HARDMAN: About 60 people are forming a line at a dance studio in north Baton Rouge. They walked, biked, took the bus or bummed a ride to get to this unofficial flood recovery center. People are here for diapers, bottled water, food. Forty-four-year-old Sonya Phillips got a lift from her 74-year-old mother-in-law. She lost two cars in the flood. Renting a car is impossible. A quick search online produces a response of zero cars at zero locations. Even rental car places got flooded.

SONYA PHILLIPS: You can go, like, to Alabama or, you know, the outskirts of Louisiana to get a car. How are you going to get there? Who's going to take you to Alabama to get a car?

HARDMAN: So Phillips has been stuck at home with her two kids, struggling to get to the grocery store and other errands. Her husband has had no way to get to his factory job.

PHILLIPS: He had to take vacation days to cover - not been able to get to work.

HARDMAN: Back at Ronnie Stewart's tow lot, 21-year-old Ivy McMannis walks in with a handful of paperwork. His truck is totaled. His mom lost three cars. His fiancee gave them a ride. He's not here to see Ronnie. He needs a signature from Ronnie's wife, Rita, a local justice of the peace.

IVY MCMANNIS: Yes, sir. I'm getting married today at noon.

HARDMAN: McMannis smirks in excitement when he talks about the wedding, but he's also nervous.

MCMANNIS: I ain't got a job right now because of my situation. And it's pretty terrible, to be honest.

HARDMAN: Like a lot of people here, he's ready to move on with his life. He just needs a ride. For NPR News, I'm Jesse Hardman in Livingston, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As the new Coastal Reporter, Jesse Hardman will draw on 15 years of worldwide experience in radio, video and print journalism. As a radio reporter he has reported for NPR, BBC, and CBC, and for such familiar programs as Marketplace, This American Life, Latino USA, and Living on Earth. He served as a daily news reporter and news magazine producer for WBEZ in Chicago.

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