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Post-Gustav New Orleans Nothing Like Post-Katrina

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's get a glimpse of the city that many evacuees left behind. No matter how well you think you know New Orleans, you have not seen it until you tour the empty streets with NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO: You can tell that there has been a hurricane here. There are signs on the ground; there are trees that have been knocked over and branches in the road. But on the whole, the city looks like it's in very good shape. There's power out all over, and the streets are empty, but we're not seeing roofs ripped off of buildings, we're not seeing windows shattered in.

Right now it doesn't look anything like what the city looked like after Hurricane Katrina.

(Soundbite of wind blowing)

SHAPIRO: We've just pulled up near the Industrial Canal here and there's a convoy of camouflage vehicles, Humvees and other vehicles that have SWAT emblazoned on the side. It looks like National Guard troops perhaps. And they're all lined up in front of a street that has right now about six inches of water in it but it looks like more water is coming in. We're going to head closer to the canal now and see what we can find.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

SHAPIRO: I'm wading through the water in my galoshes to get to an overpass where hopefully I can get a better view of what exactly is going on. Hold on a second: a white van just pulled up. I'm going to talk to these guys and see what's going on.

Will you tell me your name?

Mr. ALVIN MCMILLAN: Alvin McMillan.

SHAPIRO: Mr. McMillan, what are you doing out here in a hurricane like this?

Mr. MCMILLAN: I own a lot of property in the city and I was just checking my property.

SHAPIRO: How does it look so far?

Mr. MCMILLAN: It looks good. I mean, they got a couple of houses fell, but...

SHAPIRO: Now, you're saying it looks good but you're driving through about a foot of water. I'm standing here in about a foot of water. Do you feel like you made the right decision to stay here?

Mr. MCMILLAN: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: All right. Good to talk to you. Stay safe.

I'm walking up the overpass now to get a better view of the canal.

(Soundbite of wind blowing)

SHAPIRO: The wind is really strong up here and the clouds are just skidding by. I can see the canal and from my perspective things look good despite the fact that some water has washed over the side causing some minor flooding in the Upper Ninth Ward here. I don't see any breeches; I don't see any overtopping and that's consistent with what the mayor's office and the Army Corps of Engineers has said.

All right. The wind is picking up again and so it's the rain. I think it's time to head back towards the car.

(Soundbite of car door opening)

SHAPIRO: Okay. We've left the Upper Ninth Ward and now we're heading towards the French Quarter. And as we drive through the city there's now a flock of chickens crossing the road in front of us. You see some strange things during a hurricane.

Okay. We've just pulled up outside of Mr. Chubby's Cheesesteaks on Bourbon Street and I see a guy walking out with some food, so it looks like they're open despite the storm. Let's check it out.

(Soundbite of car door opening)

SHAPIRO: Hey, you guys open? Would you just tell me your name?

Mr. TODD BROWNING: Todd Browning.

SHAPIRO: What was it like at the worst of the storm when you guys are still here serving?

Mr. BROWNING: It wasn't bad at all. I mean, during then we had the National Guard and everybody coming in. But the storm wasn't too bad at all.

SHAPIRO: This cheesesteak place is like a microcosm of people who decided to stay through the hurricane. There's sheriff's officers, National Guard, and of course Al Roker.

Mr. AL ROKER (NBC): There are a lot of people who are looking for someplace to eat and that's why you end up at Mr. Chubby's.

SHAPIRO: Having a cheesesteak.

Mr. ROKER: Having a - well, they're out of cheesesteak; we had cheeseburgers. But the important thing is we had cheese.

SHAPIRO: The cheese is important in a hurricane.

Mr. ROKER: Well, you know, you want something that's going to help weigh you down because, you know, you're blowing around a lot. You need something solid.

SHAPIRO: Right. Good to talk to you.

Mr. ROKER: Thank you. You bet. Take care.

SHAPIRO: Well, the French Quarter certainly survived Hurricane Gustav intact. We're going to head now to Magazine Street, which is one of the main shopping streets in New Orleans, where everything was boarded up before the storm hit except for one barbeque place.

(Soundbite of car door opening)

SHAPIRO: Okay. We're here at Jenita's(ph) Barbeque, where they've got cars parked on the sidewalk and a sign in the door saying here inside and heavily armed.

Ms. KIM GISIKE(ph): I'm Kim Gisike(ph), one of the owners.

Ms. MELANIE KAYE(ph): I'm Melanie Kaye, the only native staying here.

SHAPIRO: So how did you guys do last night?

Ms. GISIKE: Fine. Slept great. We had power until 6:00 a.m.

SHAPIRO: And so what happens next? What happens now?

Ms. KAYE: Oh, we're going to cook some food. We're going to be very good New Orleanians and support our local community.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, we'll be back for some barbeque later on. Thanks a lot.

Ms. GISIKE: We'll be starting to serve around 4:00.

SHAPIRO: Not many people stayed in New Orleans for the hurricane, but based on this unscientific sampling, it seems as though those who are still here are in good spirits and ready to start cleaning up and putting the city back together.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.