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Gustav-Hit Houma, La., Sees Little Flooding

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Louisiana is cleaning up after Hurricane Gustav. The major levees held, and there haven't been reports of anywhere near the level of flooding seen after Hurricane Katrina.

There is a lot of wind damage, and power is out for 1.4 million households throughout the state. A big question for the nearly two million evacuees, when can we go home?

In a moment, we'll talk with one frustrated evacuee in Shreveport. Around New Orleans, the National Guard and state police are manning checkpoints and blocking residents from returning. Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal saw some of the worst-hit areas from a helicopter.

One of those areas is the city of Houma, less than 20 miles from where Gustav made landfall. And NPR's Greg Allen spent the day there.

GREG ALLEN: In Houma, people say Hurricane Gustav could have been worse, but that doesn't mean this community got off lightly. On Highway 24, Danny Bergeron(ph) spent the day sitting on the tailgate of his pick-up truck listening to the radio because, really, that's all he could do.

Mr. DANNY BERGERON: I'm kind of stranded. I can't go nowhere. I can't flag down an electrical truck to see when they're going to get rid of this.

ALLEN: Bergeron's home is surrounded by downed power lines and utility poles, a mass of debris and cables that's trapped him in the house where he took refuge. Only about 110,000 people live in Terrebonne Parish, but officials estimate that as many as a fifth of them stayed here to ride out Hurricane Gustav.

Bergeron said he figured he'd be okay because his house stands on high ground. What he wasn't prepared for was the wind.

Mr. BERGERON: I said, well, I need to put my truck under the carport. I pull out, I go around the corner so that way I can just drive real quick in. Well, when I drove back in, I got out of my truck, slammed the door, and the top of the pole snapped.

A few minutes later, I was out here. The tree falls, and all three poles fall all at the same time.

ALLEN: In most of Southern Louisiana, it was the wind, not the water, that did most of the damage. In another part of Houma this morning, Gibb Anselma(ph) was sitting in front of his house with his wife Betty. He says the worst part of the storm was the neighbor's dog, which barked all night long.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

ALLEN: Winds topped 100 miles per hour here, but even he was surprised how well his house did. As Gustav approached, Anselma says what really worried him was Bayou Terrebonne, which is just at his back door. I asked him how far.

Mr. GIBB ANSELMA (Resident): About 100 feet.

ALLEN: What was the bayou like? That must have been what you were worried about in the storm…

Mr. ANSELMA: Oh, that's the only thing that worried me at first was the surge from the water, you know, coming in from the Gulf. You're not far from the Gulf of Mexico here, you know.

ALLEN: There was little in the way of hurricane protection in this part of coastal Louisiana. Terrebonne Parish officials feared their minimal eight-foot levees would be quickly overtopped by Gustav's estimated 10 to 15-foot storm surge.

Fortunately, those predictions didn't pan out, and authorities here say there was minimal flooding. But all through Houma, trees and utility poles were snapped in half, taking down the parish's entire power grid.

In addition, uprooted trees took out water and sewer lines. Terrebonne Parish spokesman Al Levron says officials can't say when residents will be allowed to return.

Mr. AL LEVRON (Spokesman, Terrebonne Parish): Without water, without power, our major hospitals cannot operate. Without the hospital operating and the curfew in place, our doctors who relocated cannot come into the community. We need to get out into the community, clean the roads, and ultimately get our people back into a community.

Ms. DEE DEE THURSTON (Managing Editor, Houma Courier): What does Barry House(ph) look like?

Unidentified Man: Same as everything else, a bunch of trees and a bunch of power lines in the road.

Ms. THURSTON: No major roof damage?

ALLEN: At the Houma Courier, managing editor Dee Dee Thurston is one of a handful of employees who have been working around the clock since the storm hit.

Ms. THURSTON: We're a community newspaper, and I'll probably have answered 200 phone calls and answered twice that many e-mails. I was probably up until about 3:00 this morning doing that. They're all stuck someplace else, and all they want to know is if their house, their mama's house, is okay, and that's what we're trying to tell them.

ALLEN: Here in Houma, everyone says the damage from Gustav is worse than what they saw from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The closest comparison, parish officials say, is to Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and after that storm, power wasn't restored here for three weeks.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Houma, Louisiana. 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.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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