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Southern Louisiana Prepares For Hurricane Ida's Imminent Landfall


Hurricane Ida is being described as an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm that could bring sustained winds of 150 miles an hour. Landfall is expected along the coast of Louisiana this afternoon or evening. But the coast is already experiencing tropical storm conditions. The National Hurricane Center says up to 20 inches of rainfall accumulation is possible. That's much higher than what we saw when Hurricane Katrina hit the coast on this very day 16 years ago. Archie Chaisson III is the president of Lafourche Parish. That's south of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ARCHIE CHAISSON III: Hey. Good morning. How are you?

KHALID: I'm doing all right. How are you? And I should ask, what are you seeing right now where you are?

CHAISSON: Yeah. So we're beginning to see the first bands come in to the south of our parish. We have probably the bottom third of what - we're already without power. As the winds start to pick up and topple some of the grids and stuff like that, it's going to rapidly deteriorate from here. We're going to start to see 120, probably plus mile an hour winds across southern Lafourche, southern Terrebonne, and then eventually making its way up into Baton Rouge.

KHALID: And your parish, as I understand it, is directly in Ida's path. You have a population there of about 100,000 people. What have you all been doing to prepare for this storm?

CHAISSON: Yes. So we started closing floodgates, beefing up our levee system, closing all the floodwalls that we have here. We have a 42-mile contiguous levee system on the southern part of our parish that we can lock itself in. But we fully anticipate with - if we get the full brunt of a 15-foot tidal surge, we will have some parts of our levee system that are overtopped.

KHALID: Oh, gosh.

CHAISSON: We've been working through progress with the National Guard about getting what we call Super Sacks, those very large sandbags, that we could control levee breaches and things with, as well as urban search and rescue teams that are ready.

KHALID: And you did issue a mandatory evacuation order. Is that correct?

CHAISSON: Yeah, we did. We called that Friday afternoon. We have a mandatory curfew that's in effect right now and will remain in effect until further notice. By our estimates, about 50% of the population has left. We have, like, 200 people in our evacuation shelters at Central Lafourche and Thibodaux high schools. Both of those buildings are rated for Category 4 storms. So we feel pretty confident that those buildings can weather whatever winds we get. So now it's just a wait and see game. And we're going to sit back and ride this bull for as long as we can.

KHALID: You know, at the outset. I was mentioning there Hurricane Katrina. But in some ways, this hurricane is coming under very different circumstances because it's coming in the midst of a pandemic. So talk to me about how you all are preparing to mitigate, you know, even possibly the spread of coronavirus infection, just given that this is all happening under a very strange situation right now.

CHAISSON: Yeah, we have all of our COVID protocols in place at our shelters with masking and temperature checks. And people who either had high temps or COVID-type symptoms - we allowed them to come into the shelter, but we segregated those people in different places in the high school, in the hallways, so we can keep everybody safe. Post-recovery, it's going to be what it is. You know, we're going to do as best as we can to get people masked up when we're - in all the stores and stuff like that. But my first priority is going to be getting power restored, getting people back into their homes and mitigating those effects after the fact.

KHALID: And, Mr. Chaisson, I should ask, before we let you go, what are your personal plans for staying safe?

CHAISSON: (Laughter) So we - I have a tight-knit group of our executive staff, as well as law enforcement, Coast Guard, Air National Guard, soldiers with me in our emergency operations center here in Mathews, La. We're going to ride it out here. The building's graded for a Category 3, Category 4 storm. So we're going to put it to its test. And we'll be here. My family - kissed my wife and kids goodbye on Friday and sent them to family in Texas. And they're going to ride it out there.

KHALID: Well, Archie Chaisson III, president of Lafourche Parish in southeast Louisiana, thank you very much. Please stay safe.

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

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