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Tropical Storm Marco, Followed By Laura, To Bring Rain And Flooding In Louisiana

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Gulf storm Marco, now barely a tropical storm, continues to lose strength as it blows towards the Louisiana coast. Maximum sustained winds are 40 miles per hour. But south Louisiana's on alert as a bigger storm system is coming up right behind it. NPR's John Burnett reports from New Orleans.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Louisianans have an unexpected temporary reprieve. Marco was only a hurricane for a little while, but it came apart and is expected to peter out over southwest Louisiana and east Texas in the next 24 hours. Governor John Bel Edwards is grateful.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: So we all have more time. It would be a shame if we didn't take advantage of it so that we can properly position ourselves to be prepared for Hurricane Laura.

BURNETT: That's the storm that has Louisiana nervous. Laura is supposed to roar onshore near the Texas/Louisiana border late Wednesday as a strong Category 2, with winds greater than a hundred miles per hour. Two thousand National Guard troops are ready. People are filling sandbags, gassing up their vehicles and packing in supplies in case they lose power.

New Orleans is not expecting major trouble from either storm. But people here are keenly aware that Saturday marks 15 years since Hurricane Katrina, the monster cyclone that burst and overtopped levees, flooded 80% of the city and killed more than 1,500 people in Louisiana.

VERNELL SMITH: My wife say she's not staying down here no more when stuff happens.

BURNETT: Vernell Smith lives on Deslonde Street in the Lower 9th Ward, which suffered the worst devastation of any neighborhood during Katrina. He rebuilt his heavily damaged brick house that sits a block from the huge breach in the Industrial Canal, whose floodwaters blasted homes off their foundations. Smith, who was bagging cut grass in his front yard, says he's not especially concerned about Marco or Laura threatening New Orleans. But his wife is contacting relatives, preparing to evacuate just the same.

SMITH: She is now making plan in the house - making plans now to get out from down here 'cause nobody want to be down here again after experiencing Katrina.

BURNETT: Keep traveling east from the Lower Nine, and you get to St. Bernard Parish. It's located in the wetlands, where human settlement is made possible by an intricate network of levees, floodgates, flood walls and pumps. When tropical storms approach, people pay attention.

STEVE JACKSON: I'm a fisherman, so I picked all my boats up and put them up here on safe ground, you know? That's what I've been doing this morning.

BURNETT: Steve Jackson is a shrimper and crabber wearing a grease-stained T-shirt who lives in the town of Poydras. He thinks the billions of dollars the government has invested in flood protection since Katrina will keep them safe. What he's worried about - with a possible 2 to 4 feet of storm surge from Marco - is his crab traps.

JACKSON: Like I said, the only thing I got to worry about - I got my - I left my traps out, which I couldn't go get - so I guess about 600 of them out there. I hope they're there. They're about $50 a piece now, you know?

BURNETT: Other St. Bernard residents are being careful, too. On a drive down Delacroix Highway, I counted 275 campers, boats, RVs, trailers and heavy equipment that people had parked on the roadway. They stretched for miles along the shoulder.

Ronnie Livaudais is a local carpenter who works on fishing boats.

RONNIE LIVAUDAIS: That's the most I ever saw. I've never seen that many. Parish allows everybody to get their property out of harm's way. My tractor is right there.

BURNETT: So even though Marco has become a minor storm and Laura is supposed to strike the opposite end of the state's coast, people in south Louisiana have a deep respect for Mother Nature.

John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.