‘I can’t take care of you’: Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish struggles with rescue resources

Louisiana's Jefferson Parish has been particularly hard hit by Hurricane Ida. John Yang speaks with Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, who had been out surveying the damage. She said first responders still haven't reached one barrier island town in her parish, where residents are in dire need.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now let's hear from state and local leaders on the ground in Louisiana.

    John Yang starts with a look at the efforts and the struggles to help get help to residents.

  • Cynthia Lee Sheng, President Of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana:

    So, we still haven't been able to get to Grand Isle. I know there's been some helicopter flights.

    Actually, the media has shown me some of the first footage this morning that I have seen. I'm getting reports that there were people on buildings trying to get help. Very difficult situation, when we don't have access there, we don't have communication there. This is what we're dealing against.

    I mean we have incredible first responder teams that can do search-and-rescue. But when you don't have the communication or you're blocked by water, or trees in the road, or electric lines down, it becomes very, very difficult. So we're still in the very first stages of this.

    But it looked like they — the water had subsided Grand Isle. Other areas of the parish, namely, Lafitte, are still underwater, tremendous amount of water. They're still bring boats in that neighborhood today.

    And so our issues are really, it's supposed to be a hot day to day up here. We don't have electricity. We don't have many of the modern-day amenities. Our water, our sewer is very fragile. It becomes very, very difficult.

  • John Yang:

    Now, I also read somewhere that there was — there was some talk of moving people out, of people who didn't have — because of — they don't have water and power, of busing people out of the parish or passing out of their homes to a safer place.

    What's the situation with that?

  • Cynthia Lee Sheng:

    Well, what's going on is, many people are already leaving, because it's just — conditions are deteriorating, and stores aren't open. There's no gas.

    So, until our community can get resources, it's hard living here, especially if you're elderly, especially if you're medically vulnerable. So I just got back from a shelter that we have.

    And so, until we can start putting the pieces back together, everybody's tired already, and we're not coming into this. If you can't take care of yourself, we need to get you food and air condition and water and medical help.

    And it's better that you — we use the state resources and get you away from home in another part of the state until, we can kind of regroup. So, my messages for today and tomorrow is, until we start getting more help here, I can't take care of you because I don't have the resources here.

    So we got to — government can take care of you. But it's got to be a little bit away from now, until things start — some of the resources start getting here.

  • John Yang:

    And you said you just came from a shelter. Can you tell us a little bit about the situation there, how things are going there?

  • Cynthia Lee Sheng:

    Yes, so this is all about our local government and our state working together. They're at the shelter right now.

    At 4, the buses from the state will pick them up, and they're going to go to Alexandria, where they will have the air condition, they will have food, they will have water. More critically, they will have — in a centralized location, they will have the medical needs that they will need.

    That's difficult for me to provide too, because our hospital systems were already filled with COVID. They're on generator. We have water issues. So those basic amenities right now, we just cannot — if you're a vulnerable person, we just cannot provide those basic amenities in our community right now.

  • John Yang:

    You talk about the government. You talk about humanitarian groups.

    For viewers out here who want to help, what's your message to them? What would you ask them to do?

  • Cynthia Lee Sheng:

    Well, we need a lot of help. I mean, I don't know if they have set up a number for donations. We have a lot of aid.

    I was heartbroken at the shelter this morning. I met a man. He said he was in Barataria. The water started coming up. He was by himself. He spent the night in the attic. He was dehydrated. He had to go to the hospital overnight. He was at the shelter.

    And you could just see. All he said is: "I don't want to go to Alexandria. I want to rebuild my house."

    People want to put their lives back together. And, physically, that means cleaning up your house. But that is the human element that we want to do, is, a tragedy has happened, and you want to do something. And that means put your life back together, start cleaning up and start — and that makes you feel better.

    And that's the difficulty here, is that people want to do something to regroup and rebuild, and we're not in that place yet. I mean, his house is still filled with water.

    And so it was a hard conversation for me to have with him. It really was. And he will rebuild. I could see the determination in his face. But he has been through just a harrowing 48 hours. You could see — you can see the worry and the exhaustion.

    But I was — I was glad he made it through and I was glad he survived.

  • John Yang:

    That was Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng.

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