AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Tropical Storm Barry is getting stronger. It's approaching the northern Gulf Coast. And in southern Louisiana, winds are picking up, and roads are flooding. The center of the storm is expected to cross land around dawn tomorrow morning.
Speaking at a news conference in New Orleans today, National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott says residents need to hurry.
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BENJAMIN SCHOTT: Time is short. If you have preparations that you need to complete, now is the time. You do not have much more time at all before the impacts of Barry will be here.
CORNISH: For small towns on the bayou, the rain has already begun. Many areas are under evacuation orders, but that means different things for different people. NPR's Rebecca Hersher talked to residents who are trying to figure out the best way to stay safe.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: If you drive down, down, down to the Louisiana bayou until there's no more road to drive on, one of the places you could find yourself is in the town of Cocodrie. This area is marshy and flat - as flat as you can imagine. And so this morning, the local sheriff's department was warning people here they needed to leave - now. The floodgate into town was going to close to keep storm surge away from areas inland. And once it closed, there'd be no way to drive out.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi, guys.
HERSHER: Eighteen-year-old Luis Ramirez (ph) and his two brothers were racing the clock, tying up their oyster boat before the heavy rain started.
Are you worried?
LUIS RAMIREZ: A little bit.
HERSHER: Ramirez and his brothers rely on the boat for their livelihoods. They're trying to tie it to a chain-link fence. They're all a little shy, like they're not totally sure what they're doing, but they know they can't stay with the boat during the storm. The area is being evacuated. Ramirez says their plan is to stay up the road instead in a bigger town, which is actually also being voluntarily evacuated. But Ramirez says they're going to stay there anyway.
RAMIREZ: I don't think we got somewhere else to go.
HERSHER: Researchers have found that this - feeling like you do or don't have somewhere else you can go - is at least as important to people's decisions as the risk posed by a storm. Add to that that most of the evacuations so far for this storm are voluntary, so it's up to each person or family to figure out what is the safest place they feel like they can get to. For a lot of people, that means having multiple plans, most of which seem to start with buying food. Up the road from Cocodrie, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store is bumping.
SANDRA BOUDREAUX: My name is Sandra Boudreaux (ph) from Shelby (ph).
HERSHER: Boudreaux is sitting in her truck while her friend gets groceries - enough to feed Boudreaux's 13 grandchildren, who all live in the area, and six of whom are under four years old, including three 3-year-olds.
BOUDREAUX: Food, milk, babies' milk, diapers, candle - not candles. We bought flashlights this year. Look at the babies. We charged a bunch of batteries, and we're going to use it for lights - I mean..
HERSHER: So yeah. For now, they're staying. But if there's a mandatory evacuation or if the police come and warn her that the water is rising, she says they do have a plan for getting all those kids out.
BOUDREAUX: So we fit three car seats. We're going to have - we're going to be illegal. I'm not going to lie, but we're gone (laughter).
HERSHER: Like, you're going to pile a bunch of people...
BOUDREAUX: We will face consequences after. How you see - every action has its reactions. Well...
HERSHER: The plan exists, even if it's not perfect. Boudreaux has ridden out storms here before, been cut off from medical help, from food and fresh water for days. She doesn't want to do it again.
Rebecca Hersher, NPR News, Chauvin, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.