SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Barry is now a hurricane as it makes landfall on Louisiana's coast to the west of New Orleans. The storm is expected to dump more than a foot of rain in some places and cause flash flooding. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in New Orleans. Debbie, thanks so much for being with us.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: What's going on with the storm now?
ELLIOTT: Well, Barry got stronger as it was out over the Gulf of Mexico. It became a hurricane right before it started making landfall. That's just west of Morgan City. It's hitting the coast right now with about 75-mile-an-hour winds and a storm surge that's up to 6 feet in some places.
But this isn't just a coastal thing. The effects of this hurricane are being felt over much of southeast Louisiana. The Coast Guard had to make some pretty dramatic rooftop rescues on an island cut off by rising floodwaters earlier today. South of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish, water is pouring over the top of some levees that had farmers in Myrtle Grove scrambling to use airboats to herd their cattle out of these pastures that were filling up with water. Some communities around Lake Pontchartrain are also taking on water.
The mayor of Slidell, Greg Cromer, is warning that things will get even worse come high tide this evening.
GREG CROMER: Do not let your guard down at this point. We have a lot more water coming towards us.
ELLIOTT: So forecasters say 10 to 20 inches of rain today and tomorrow prompting life-threatening floods. The problem is that this is such a slow-moving storm, so the rains are just going to sit over Louisiana and keep dumping and keep dumping. Also probably going to cause some problems over in Mississippi.
SIMON: How well is the state prepared, do you think?
ELLIOTT: You know, Louisiana is a state that is used to natural disasters, and they know that they're sinking and disappearing coast is vulnerable, so they do what they can to prepare. Governor John Bel Edwards had activated the National Guard as local officials, as well as state officials, are positioning boats, high-water vehicles, the Coast Guard with its helicopters all ready to respond to the disaster as needed. Provisions have been staged around the state - you know, water and food to get to people should the need arise. Shelters have been set up. People, you know, can go find a safe place to stay.
And for the first time ever, officials closed every one of the floodgates in the state designed to protect it from the rising Mississippi River. This is an unprecedented situation because the Mississippi has been in a high-water flood stage for months now, and here it is colliding with this hurricane. There was this fear that Barry's storm surge would push water up over levees and gates. The Army Corps of Engineers says given the current forecast, it's confident that most of the structures will hold and that is not likely to happen.
SIMON: Hurricane Katrina was such a milestone for the state, too. Are there echoes of that? Do people have that fear now?
ELLIOTT: Well, no. This is a completely different storm. It's not as strong. But, certainly, people are very, you know, sensitive to what might happen. I visited the Lower Ninth Ward, the community so devastated by Katrina. And I talked with Burnell Lucien (ph). He was sitting on his front porch. And he said, you know, he has supplies. He's not really concerned now.
BURNELL LUCIEN: The levees are high. We don't get the storm surge in the canals no more. If it's just rainwater, we good. You know, we good.
SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott on the job for us there in New Orleans today. Thanks very much for being with us, Debbie. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.