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The Gulf Of Mexico Braces For 2 Dangerous Storm Systems


People on the Gulf Coast face the risk of being hit by two storms in a row. Both are currently tropical storms. Marco is weakening but is still expected to slam into Louisiana today. Laura is not very far behind and is forecast to be stronger. NPR's John Burnett is in New Orleans. John, good morning.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the latest that you have on the path of these storms?

BURNETT: So Tropical Storm Marco is supposed to reach Louisiana southwest of New Orleans today, and then it's going to skirt the coastline heading west, then drop to a tropical depression tomorrow. The wind field is not that big. It was downgraded from a hurricane overnight. Of course, the problem is water. The whole Louisiana coast is under a storm surge warning extending to the Mississippi-Alabama border. They're expecting 2 to 4 feet of water and up to 10 inches of rain. And with a relatively small storm like this, there've been not that many evacuations, which is good news because of the possibility of coronavirus spreading inside the shelters. Folks down here are mainly just sheltering in place.

INSKEEP: Sounds like we wouldn't be all that worried except for Laura, which is following Marco.

BURNETT: Exactly. And that's what folks are worried about, Steve. It's supposed to make landfall as a strong Category 2 or even a low Cat 3, which would make it a major hurricane. And as Marco trundles off to Texas, Laura is up next. Authorities are worried they'll only have a window of 12 to 18 hours between the storms to do possible rescues and restore power if the lines come down.


BURNETT: Here's meteorologist Ben Schott with the National Weather Service.


BEN SCHOTT: I can't really put words real clearly about how remarkably odd that is to have two systems like that so close to each other and impacting the same state within such a short period of time.

INSKEEP: One of the people that we're hearing from, as John Burnett reports, in the two storms approaching. And they approach, John, as we approach the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a story that you covered in 2005 - more than 1,800 people killed along the Gulf Coast. How do the situations compare?

BURNETT: Well, you're right. I mean, every hurricane season, that's the fear - will there be another big one and a direct hit like Katrina? And anyone who was here, like I was, will tell you that was epic. But remember - after Katrina caused its catastrophe, then along comes Hurricane Rita three weeks later.


BURNETT: And it flooded some of the same low-lying coastal areas, and I remember people were terrified that more levees would fail. And so there is concern in Louisiana today about these two hurricanes hitting in such short order. Laura could worsen the flooding from Marcos if there is not time for the storm surge to recede. Yesterday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned folks that Laura could be the strongest storm since Katrina and Rita in 2005.


JOHN BEL EDWARDS: And I know that that particular year brings up horrific memories and images for all of us in Louisiana, and we also know that tremendous progress has been made in Louisiana in terms of the hurricane risk reduction system and other levees and other flood protection that we have in place.

INSKEEP: John, is it true that tremendous progress has been made in hurricane risk reduction?

BURNETT: It's - yeah, absolutely. You have to remember that south Louisiana is a water world, and none more than the city of New Orleans, which is a bowl lying below sea level. And over the past 15 years, these local and federal governments down here have spent billions of dollars in heroic efforts to erect these great sea walls and floodgates and install bigger pumps and raise the levees. And so when south Louisiana faces a double dose of Gulf storms like it does now, it's a test of all this expensive flood protection to see how well it keeps the sea out.

INSKEEP: NPR's John Burnett.


As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.