In New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, grocery store owner keeps doors open

"This is Katrina times 10 all over again," says Burnell Cotlon of the coronavirus pandemic that has his customers "terrified."

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By Kim Cornett

Burnell Cotlon spent his life's savings to open the only grocery store in the Lower 9th Ward a decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans.

In a 2015 interview, Cotlon told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt that his store was the only place in the community where residents could find fresh produce and other grocery items.

Now it remains the only business of its kind in the Lower 9th Ward, and the Army veteran is working nearly 17 hours a day to make sure it's stocked with groceries and much-needed supplies like face masks and cleaning items.

Cotlon says his customers are coming from all over the city. In a phone call earlier this week, Cotlon told Holt they are "terrified."

"This is Katrina times 10 all over again," he said.

"It feels like a nightmare," he added. "It feels like we're living Katrina all over again. Except it's much worse because it's an invisible monster. We know it's there, even though we can't see it."

Cotlon says some of his regular customers are now out of work, but he can't turn them down, and that he will continue to keep the store open.

"This is my home, and when your home is hurting, you are supposed to do something," he said.