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Isaac Floods Lousiana's Plaquemines Parish


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's get one perspective on Hurricane Isaac from Billy Nungesser. He is president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. If you look at a map of Louisiana, you'll see Plaquemines, that finger of land sticking far out into the Gulf of Mexico, the farthest reach of the Mississippi River Delta. And he's on the line from there.

Mr. Nungesser, welcome to the program.

BILLY NUNGESSER: How are you today?

INSKEEP: I'm OK, thanks. The question is: How are you? What's happening where you are?

NUNGESSER: Well, we've got a real problem on our hand. The east bank of Plaquemines from Braithwaite to White Ditch, the north end of the east bank is being inundated with water as we speak. It came up so quick and rolled over those levees that we, at this time, have a couple of our pump operators stranded as they try to leave the pump station. They're stranded on the levee.

There's reports of a woman on the roof of her house. And we're getting reports of people stranded in their homes and people in their attics.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand what you're saying. You're talking about water overtopping the levees, which as far as we know, the levees themselves have not been breached. They haven't collapsed. But water's going over the top. And for people like your pump operators, the only ground that is high enough for them to stand on anymore is the levee itself. Is that what you're saying?

NUNGESSER: Right. We have an elevated pump station, and we tell our pump operators, if you ever feel unsafe, get out. You know, your life is more important than pumping the water. They attempted to leave when they saw the water coming over the levee, and it came up so quick, their truck was unable to travel on the levee. And we have a resident that lives not far from there that has volunteered to go try to rescue them. And there's several people in the subdivision of Braithwaite that are stranded.

INSKEEP: Are you able to say that it is at least a limited number of people who seem not to have evacuated and who seem to be in the path of the flooding, Mr. Nungesser?

NUNGESSER: We really don't know at this time. I can tell you this, White Ditch - excuse me, Woodlawn area, that has never flooded for any hurricane, it's the highest area on the east bank, it has five foot of water.

My home has more damage from this storm than it did for Katrina. I stopped there to change clothes earlier, part of my roof is missing, the back wall is moved and the water is being pushed through the brick into the house through the outlet. That's the kind of damage I saw when I rode out Katrina at my home. And so I don't know who's calling this a Category 1, but this is no Category 1.

INSKEEP: So you're saying that even if this is overall a weaker storm than Katrina, there are specific places, specially your parish, where the damage is really quite severe?

NUNGESSER: Yes. Every power line from south Plaquemines, the poles are snapped off and laying across the road.

INSKEEP: Now, you're in an emergency center there. What is the stiffest wind that people have recorded or heard of in your area?

NUNGESSER: Well, I got a call from one of the reporters that said they clocked 106 mile-an-hour wind down in the area where I live, which is Pointe Celeste. And we really don't know. We know we're in this building, the windows are shaking. We've got hurricane shutters, but the wind's blowing pretty good, and the rain has not let up. We've had a continual rain through this whole event. We understand it's going to continue for another 30 hours.

INSKEEP: Thirty hours?

NUNGESSER: Yeah. This will be historical, that we had rain and this storm hung around and moved that slow, that we have this kind of devastation. And that's the frustrating part. We're sitting here wanting to go rescue these people, and until the sun comes up and we can see where we're going, we can't - we don't even know how to get there. You can't see your hand in front of your face.

INSKEEP: Meaning a person on a roof or your guy on the levee is just going to have to wait there.

NUNGESSER: Those people who are stranded in a house. Yeah, they're going to have to wait.

INSKEEP: So there's nothing you can do, at least for now.

NUNGESSER: Not at this time.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Nungesser, thanks very much for the update. I appreciate it.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we'll try to get back to you when we can. Billy Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish, which is suffering flooding from Hurricane Isaac. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.