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Ida Brings Back Memories Of Hurricane Katrina For Grocery Store Owner

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

We're reaching out to New Orleans residents coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, and that led us to Burnell Cotlon. In the early 2000s, after 11 years overseas in the military, Cotlon returned home.

BURNELL COTLON: Home for me was the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And for a while, things for him at home were going really well.

COTLON: I had the perfect job, the perfect family, the perfect house. You could not tell me I wasn't going to live happily ever after. But unfortunately, I came home just in time for Hurricane Katrina. And I lost everything, just like everybody else. And I had to start all over.

KING: After Katrina, the chain stores left, and the Lower 9th Ward became a food desert.

COTLON: So I said, well, you know what? Since they're not going to build it, I am.

MARTINEZ: Cotlon opened a small grocery store that grew to include a laundromat and a barber shop. Since 2009, Burnell's Lower 9th Market has been supplying the neighborhood with fresh produce, milk and other necessities.

KING: And then on Sunday, Hurricane Ida made landfall, 16 years to the day after Katrina hit. And for Burnell, this brought back some powerful memories.

COTLON: I never thought I'd see the city like this again.

MARTINEZ: Cotlon says part of his air conditioner is hanging off the side of the building, and his electrical panel is damaged.

COTLON: I know the electrical is going to cost and the air condition. I've put so much into this. I put so much into this. I put everything into this. And to have to go through this all over again, it's like a double nightmare.

MARTINEZ: The Lower 9th Ward, like much of New Orleans, is still without power, which means there's no refrigeration.

COTLON: A lot of people are hungry right now. The food that I had at my store, I gave the majority of it out. The rest of it, I had to throw away because it's going bad because it's so hot down here.

KING: He says the need right now is so great that it is really getting to him.

COTLON: I cried. I cried last night, seeing my community go under like this again.

KING: In spite of all this, he says he's pushing forward.

COTLON: Some days, can it be overwhelming? Yes, it can be. But I have to stay strong. It's my purpose. My purpose is service, so I'm not going to quit. What keeps me going is knowing that the work that I do - it helps. It helps a lot of people.

MARTINEZ: That's Burnell Cotlon, owner of Burnell's Lower 9th Market in New Orleans, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF NYMANO FEAT. HYUME'S "BLURRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.