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New Orleans Mayor Outlines Preparations As Harvey Takes Aim At Louisiana


Twelve years ago today, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. And now the city of New Orleans is again preparing for major flooding as Tropical Storm Harvey rolls over the state. For more on how the city is preparing, we turn to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Hi there. Welcome to the show.

MITCH LANDRIEU: Hi, Kelly. How are you?

MCEVERS: Good. I have to ask. What's going through your head today thinking about, 12 years ago was Katrina and now this?

LANDRIEU: Today is - well, there - you know, first of all, on this day, we always take a day to remember, you know, all of the lives that were lost during Katrina. I mean that changed everybody's lives forever in New Orleans. We lost 1,800 of our, you know, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. A million people got displaced. A million homes were damaged. Another 250,000 homes were destroyed. A lot of our families and neighborhoods were torn apart. And you know, it was just really, really tough.

And today, as we look over to our brothers and sisters in Houston, I mean it's almost unbelievable that it's playing out almost exactly like it did on the streets. Our thoughts and prayers, you know, are with those we lost but also with our fellow Americans over in Houston that are just suffering a really tough time. And I'm not so sure the worst of it is over because of the interior flooding that they seem to be having. So...


LANDRIEU: ...You know, we observe this anniversary today in a very, very somber way, you know, as we prepare - as we have been for the past 10 days...

MCEVERS: Right, right. Schools are...

LANDRIEU: ...For whatever might be coming our way.

MCEVERS: Right. Schools are closed in New Orleans. You've been telling people to stay home. What kind of conditions are you expecting?

LANDRIEU: Well, we did that today. We feel a lot better. And we're going to reopen schools in the city tomorrow. The reason we did that is because as the National Weather Service has continued to say, sometimes people get focused on the eye of the storm. And it's really the rainbands that have - were the most concerning to us.

And yesterday, because of flash flood warnings and because of tornadic activity, we thought it would just be better to be safer. But we feel much better today where we are. It looks like this storm is moving further north, northeast. And now it's moving at about 8 miles per hour, which is a whole lot better for those of us that have been through storms in two. What you really don't want is a storm to sit over you for a long period of time or to be moving so slowly that it can dump a huge amount of rain.

And just to remind everybody in the country, every storm is different. It brings a different threat. It never comes at you the way it presents. And there are always unexpected situations. So we've been planning now for a couple of weeks. We've had a lot of hurricane tabletop exercise. And we feel like if something should change, that we'd be in good shape. You know, we have invested $14.5 billion in our levee system, and we feel pretty good about where we are. But you know, you always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And we feel like we're in fairly good shape given the weather forecast that we just got a couple hours ago.

MCEVERS: It's so interesting being an official along the Gulf Coast. You also have to be a weather expert in some ways...

LANDRIEU: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: ...It sounds like.

LANDRIEU: You have to be a weather expert, a pump expert, a levee expert. And you know, one of the real hard calls for local officials is to evacuate, not to evacuate, to shelter in place, not to, to have school or not have school. You know, it's not an easy thing because everybody has to kind of dance around, in some instances, the predictability or the unpredictability of weather.

And one of the challenges with tornadic activity or with weather bands is - the weather service will tell you - is that they're almost impossible to see. You can see a hurricane coming at you from a ways out. But like what happened the other day in the Gulf, that hurricane very quickly went from a two to a three to a four. And each one of those requires different preparations.

And of course no matter how well you prepare, you can see that you can get overwhelmed very, very quickly. And once things start cascading, you can get into issues where dams break or levees break. And that brings a whole other threat. Or you can get electrical outage, and you just have to be ready for all of it.


LANDRIEU: And of course it requires citizens to be very, very well-prepared...


LANDRIEU: ...And listening to their local elected officials.

MCEVERS: Do you think Houston should have been evacuated ahead of the storm?

LANDRIEU: No, not necessarily. I don't - I would never second-guess a local official or the governor in that area. They're the ones that have the best idea of what their capacity is. And they know that very, very well. I'm just saying that no matter what it is that you do, you can completely get overwhelmed by things that you don't expect. And of course we saw this not only for Katrina. We saw it with Hurricane Sandy in the northeast. We saw it now in Houston. And I can tell you that almost all the emergency response organizations in the country are much better today than they were post-September 11 or post-Katrina because with every storm, we learn the lessons that are difficult.


LANDRIEU: And you can't be completely prepared. But one thing people can do is be really ready in the event something bad happens. And if there's an electrical outage, for example, or a flooding, to be sure that you can sustain yourself for three days before the first responders get to you.


LANDRIEU: And of course the first responders are doing heroic work.

MCEVERS: We're going to have to end it there. But just 10 seconds - if you could give advice to officials in Houston, what would you - what would it be - but quick.

LANDRIEU: I would say just - look; just stay very strong.


LANDRIEU: The country loves you, and we're going to be there to help.

MCEVERS: Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu, thank you.

LANDRIEU: All righty. Thank you. Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.