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Hurricane Ida Leaves Behind A Big Trash Removal Problem In New Orleans

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People in New Orleans can always find a reason for a parade. If it's Mardi Gras, hold a parade. If you're having a funeral, hold a parade. Over the weekend, people found one more reason - dancing and wearing costumes in the streets in protest. Many there haven't had their garbage picked up since Hurricane Ida struck more than three weeks ago. Ryan Nelsen from our member station WWNO took a deep breath and went out to report.

RYAN NELSEN, BYLINE: The costumes weren't exactly Mardi Gras quality - mainly trash bags and water bottles - but the message behind Saturday's trash parade in New Orleans was serious. The piles of garbage, including the contents of refrigerators that were dumped during dayslong power outages, are unacceptable. Nicole Dreger, who wore a trash bag with fake moss draped over her shoulders, while braving the rain.

NICOLE DREGER: We're fed up. We're kind of - we're done with this situation, and something needs to be done now.

NELSEN: How did it get this bad? Well, Hurricane Ida caused all sorts of problems, including leaving thousands of tons of debris to be cleaned up. Then there's the shortage of sanitation workers. The city said it's only got a quarter of the workforce needed to clean up the mess. In an effort to expedite trash removal, the New Orleans mayor is allowing residents to bring their trash to one of the city's transfer stations. But that move sparked its own backlash because residents say they're already paying for trash collection, and it's not right they have to take it somewhere themselves.

NOEL ANDERSON: My name's Noel Anderson. We live in the Treme. Yesterday my 70-year-old neighbor took our trash to the dump for us. Before that, we had not had it picked up.

NELSEN: Anderson says that one of the underlying problems is sanitation workers in New Orleans are underpaid and, as contractors, don't have health benefits, and there have been protests and strikes over the past year because of this. New Orleans City Councilmember Kristin Palmer was at the parade. She says there's been more than 9,000 calls to the city about trash not getting picked up. It's a mess, she says, but at least New Orleans is taking it in stride.

KRISTIN PALMER: I think, you know, only New Orleans can turn trash into a parade and a political statement. And that's what - that's why we love this town.

NELSEN: And there could be help on the way. The mayor announced Operation Mardi Gras, which will utilize city workers to collect trash, similar to how the city cleans up rapidly after its famous carnival parades, to help put an end to the stench.

For NPR news, I'm Ryan Nelsen in New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY'S "SUBURBIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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