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Slow-Moving Tropical Storm Stunts Louisiana Disaster Plans


Tropical Storm Barry is lashing the Gulf Coast this evening. It was downgraded from a hurricane earlier today, but it remains a powerful and dangerous storm. It is bringing bands of heavy rain and winds strong enough to down tree limbs and tear off roofs. Officials warned that flooding is still the biggest concern. NPR's Rebecca Hersher is in Louisiana, in the South.

Becky, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So what are the conditions like where you are?

HERSHER: Well, as you said, I'm in the southern part of Louisiana, southwest of New Orleans in a town called Houma. This is a very low-lying area. It's very, very flat. It floods frequently, even when there isn't a tropical system around. And there is one around, so there are huge gusts of wind. You may be able to hear them in the background. Sometimes very heavy rain - too heavy for me to drive through at times this afternoon coming in since last night. Some water is pooling in the streets, and there are lots of tree limbs down. I saw a couple buildings that had pieces blown off - facades, entire sections of roofs in some places.

But the most serious rain is actually still coming. And there's at least one mandatory evacuation underway farther south from here because of flooding and concerns about the levees. That hopefully will help avoid what happened last night, which was that a dozen people were rescued by the Coast Guard.

MARTIN: You know, the storm has already been affecting Louisiana for more than 24 hours, and you were just telling us that much of the rain still has not come ashore. Why is that?

MARTIN: It's just moving really slowly - just, like, five, six miles an hour, if you can imagine that, across the Gulf. And that's actually something that's been happening more and more. Storms are slowing down around the world, not just in the Gulf of Mexico. And climate scientists think it might have something to do with slower currents or wind that's related to global warming. But slow storms - they used to be relatively rare, so they catch us by surprise when they happen. So here's Helena Moreno - she's a city council person for New Orleans - speaking earlier today at a press conference.


HELENA MORENO: This is just a really weird storm. It's moving very slowly. But unfortunately, because of that, you know, there's concern that it could be, you know, building as it just sits over the waters.

HERSHER: And the other problem with slow-moving storms like this one is that people could get complacent. This is something I've heard from so many officials. They want to make sure people know everything is not OK just because the storm is moving slowly, the rain is coming in waves. Don't go driving around. If you're in a place that's safe, stay there.

MARTIN: So it seems that storms like these create these special challenges that don't always happen with tropical storms and hurricanes that move more quickly. So why don't you just tell us what other issues you're seeing on the ground?

HERSHER: Yeah, absolutely. You know, for two days now, I've been seeing firsthand how this kind of slow, really rainy system - because this storm is carrying an enormous amount of moisture - can mess with the evacuation norms. So here's an example I've seen a few times. People are trying to decide whether they're safer at home or somewhere else. So that could mean with extended family, with friends at a shelter. But it's hard to figure out because the rain is forecast to fall over the course of two or three days. So leave your house if you're concerned it will flood when it starts raining, when the water starts pooling in your driveway.

So - and that's an issue for shelters, too. I spoke to a local parish official named Darrel Waire. He's overseeing a shelter in Terrebonne Parish.

DARREL WAIRE: We're just an emergency shelter. We're not set up for long-term, so we're telling people, you know, bring your own bedding, bring your own, you know, food and snacks. We'll have some things to help feed you, but, you know...

HERSHER: You know, the shelter just isn't designed to house people for really long periods of time, which is how long the rain is going to fall. So it's just one way that these slower, rainier systems are forcing communities to maybe rethink their disaster plans, how they prepare for storms like this.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Rebecca Hersher reporting from south Louisiana.

Becky, thank you so much, and stay safe.

HERSHER: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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