Louisiana Prepares For Harvey

Aug 26, 2017
Originally published on August 26, 2017 1:17 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hurricane Harvey reached land in south Texas late last night as a Category 4 storm, with winds of more than 130 miles an hour. It's weakened since then, but winds and heavy rain continue to threaten millions of residents on the Gulf Coast. Low-lying southwest Louisiana is especially vulnerable to flooding. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports from Cameron Parish, where people are leaving the coast.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Scott and Michelle Trahan look out from their back deck in Creole, La., a remote and tiny town near the Texas border. Harvey's outer bands have brought rain much of the afternoon.

MICHELLE TRAHAN: You see already, the water, that little dock? Usually, you can see underneath it, but it's already - the pond's starting to fill up.

ELLIOTT: Beyond the dock is a pasture and marsh.

SCOTT TRAHAN: That's where we run our cattle out on Michelle and them's (ph) family property back here.

ELLIOTT: But the cattle field is empty, save for a lone white egret. The Trahans have spent the last three days herding the livestock into trailers and moving them to high ground in a neighboring parish.

S. TRAHAN: We have about 60 mama cows. And we have three bulls with them and then - got about - we're close to 40 calves.

ELLIOTT: Now they're back at the house to pack up the tractor and other heavy equipment that would ruin if Harvey's storm surge pushes in saltwater.

S. TRAHAN: I've already hauled my cow pen and portable cow pen, portable chute, dozer (ph), cattle feeder.

ELLIOTT: The Trahans live on a narrow ridge of land in Cameron Parish in far southwest Louisiana. There are not many options in and out of South Cameron - a ferry, a pontoon bridge and narrow coastal roads bound by marsh and waterways.

S. TRAHAN: So you've got to get everything out to high ground just in case.

ELLIOTT: When the last load is packed, they'll leave, too.

M. TRAHAN: You have to leave for safety. And it's just not wise to stay and take a chance. Drowning ultimately is what it would be. Things can be replaced, but lives? Not so much.

ELLIOTT: The Trahans have seen their house flooded before, even though it's up on pilings nearly 12 feet high. The Parish was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and then was hit again by Ike in 2008.

M. TRAHAN: We have to heed the warning and run from the water. And then we go from there and then take shelter and come home, if there's a home to come to, and start over.

ELLIOTT: Communities south of the intracoastal waterway here are under a mandatory evacuation. Danny Lavergne is the director of emergency preparedness for the parish. He's worried about...

DANNY LAVERGNE: Storm surge, water above ground, flooded roads where people could get trapped. But yet, just a few days down the road, we could have a tropical storm or hurricane coming.

ELLIOTT: About 2,500 full-time residents are under the evacuation order. But in addition, Lavergne says he's also had to make sure that some 14,000 workers left the area. They're here doing construction on two major liquefied natural gas plants. What's next? Lavergne says it's hard to say because unlike most hurricanes, Harvey is forecast to stay put.

LAVERGNE: This is different because most hurricanes come in, everybody evacuates. You let it pass, then you come on back in. Well, this one here, OK, well, evacuate for this part of the storm and then here comes the second part four days down the road possibly, you know.

ELLIOTT: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is worried people will wake up and assume they're in the clear because Harvey made landfall in Texas.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: The greatest risk we have is for complacency and people to not pay attention and think that this thing is over prematurely, only to have it come in our direction and visit more devastation.

ELLIOTT: Harvey is forecast to dump up to 15 inches of rain on southwest Louisiana, drenching an area that is already saturated from a rainy summer. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Creole, La.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: A landmark referenced during this report is the intracoastal waterway. It does sound to some listeners as if we said intercoastal waterway.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.