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Amid The Destruction Of Hurricane Delta, Humanity Rises To The Occasion


Delta has now weakened and is now a tropical depression. But forecasters are warning of danger from flash floods and storm surges from Texas to Mississippi. It made landfall Friday night as Hurricane Delta, a Category 2 storm that pounded Southwest Louisiana. That's the same place an even more powerful hurricane hit just six weeks ago. NPR's John Burnett has been in the region covering Delta, and he sent us this reporter's notebook.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Reporters are very good at describing the awfulness of things - the devastation left by the whirling winds of a major hurricane and the peril of its life-threatening storm surge. Hurricanes are a classic genre of disaster reporting. But we race on to the next story and often overlook the humanity of the people that makes these traumatic atmospheric events so survivable.

I was in Lake Arthur, La., yesterday, a town of about 3,000 people. I was sitting beside the lake with its graceful cypress trees, talking to the 34-year-old police chief, Kobi Turner, about the mess made by Hurricane Delta. But what was most on his mind and what didn't make it into my daily story was not the damage the storm caused. It was this.

KOBI TURNER: It's one of those things - whenever stuff like this happens, you know, we all pull together, and it ends up being - you see the greatness in people out of a bad situation.

BURNETT: Chief Turner told me about the terrible 2016 flood, when hundreds of residents unbidden showed up to fill and sling 6,000 sandbags along the lakefront to keep the water from flooding the town. He says that spirit is happening again after hurricanes Laura and Delta.

TURNER: I've seen people leave their own home to go and help other people fix their homes. And that's how it always is, especially in these smaller towns where everybody almost knows everybody over here.

BURNETT: It's people's innate kindness and caring that rarely gets attention, especially in 2020. And it is evident here in the land of the Cajuns of South Louisiana that they call Acadiana.

In the course of reporting on the hurricane, I met Ed Roy (ph), a retired meteorologist here in Lafayette. I asked him how many hurricanes he's tracked over his 40-year career, both as a TV weatherman and a forecaster for the oil and gas industry.

ED ROY: I'd probably guess 50, 60, 70 hurricanes.

BURNETT: Roy is a native, born in Grand Coteau, just up the road from Lafayette. Like other Cajuns, he's keenly aware of his people's history, the Acadians who were exiled from French Canada by the British 250 years ago.

ROY: We sense the tie that binds us - the food and the culture and our love for this land of Acadiana.

BURNETT: By that, he means the roughly 1 million mostly Catholic and French-speaking people of South Louisiana, best known for swamps, marshes, oil fields, massive oak trees, fishing, trapping, feasting, music-making and joie de vivre.

ROY: You know, we'll celebrate anything. You know, a lot of people have hurricane parties. We make the best of it. I think people here probably don't live in the moment. We have a feeling for things beyond this and our faith and our outlook. And we all understand that this land will be here doing the same thing hundreds of years after we're gone.

BURNETT: The storms will keep coming, science tells us, with more frequency and more ferocity. And the people of South Louisiana will keep helping each other through them.

John Burnett, NPR News, Lafayette, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF KISHI BASHI SONG, "CAN'T LET GO, JUNO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.