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Louisiana Cleanup Underway As Barry Moves North


Hurricane Barry hit Louisiana this weekend with 75-mile-an-hour winds and lots of rain. It was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm, and despite warnings of heavy rainfall and already swollen rivers, the storm did not trigger the flooding many feared. But Barry did expose some weaknesses in the region's high-water fortifications. Frank Morris has this report from South Louisiana.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: A few days ago, Barry looked like it could be catastrophic - an early-season hurricane hitting with the Mississippi River in flood stage. Parts of the Louisiana coast were evacuated. officials braced for near-record river levels and massive flooding. Fortunately, Barry turned out to be a pretty mild-mannered storm.

MICHAEL SYLVE: Barry wasn't much of a hurricane. He was like a rainstorm. I'll characterize it as a rainstorm.

MORRIS: But it still did damage. Michael Sylve is looking out at homes marooned on their foundations by two or three feet of water in Plaquemines Parish, La., out on the Mississippi River Delta.

M SYLVE: Oh, a huge mess. A huge mess.

MORRIS: The storm surge poured in through a gap in the levee here at West Pointe a la Hache, La. Now, where I'm standing, there are sandbags plugging the gap. But water poured through here because the levee wasn't finished. There was an open hole in it, and people here are angry about that.

JANET SYLVE: They never finished their job. And now I can't get into my home without a boat.

MORRIS: Janet Sylve's trailer home rests on seven-foot-tall concrete pillars. Floodwaters climbed maybe half that distance. And she thinks her place is OK, but as of this morning, she hadn't been back inside since evacuating Thursday. She's got good reason not to wade out there.

J SYLVE: We have a 12-foot alligator back there about a couple of months ago, so I know he's floated up somewhere - where, I can't tell you.

MORRIS: (Laughter) So you don't want to go in there.

J SYLVE: So I don't want to go in the water, correct (laughter).

MORRIS: Other parts of the coast also saw storm surges top levees and water rushing over roads. At the height of the storm, the Coast Guard rescued several people from Terrebonne Parish. Lake Pontchartrain pushed into some shoreline homes. Winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour took down trees and knocked more than 150,000 homes and businesses off the power grid at one point.

The international airport in New Orleans and much of the rest of the city were closed Saturday. The storm is pushing on north, dumping heavy rain on saturated ground, high lakes and flooding rivers. Lieutenant Chaun Domingue with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Department is glad to see the end of Barry on the coast.

CHAUN DOMINGUE: It could have been a lot worse. I think in a couple days, we might be past this. So it could've been a whole lot worse. We're very fortunate.

MORRIS: This time - as Domingue points out, it's just the early part of the hurricane season.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in West Pointe a la Hache, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.
Frank Morris