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Anne Rice on N.O.: 'It is a cataclysm'

Novelist reflects on her hometown and its future

Programming Note: Watch Anne Rice on "Paula Zahn Now," Friday, 8 p.m. ET

Anne Rice
Author Anne Rice grew up near New Orleans' fabled Garden District.


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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Anne Rice

(CNN) -- Anne Rice's novels, including "Interview With the Vampire" and "The Queen of the Damned," are a stew of horror, overt eroticism and lush, atmospheric settings -- often located in her hometown of New Orleans.

But nothing can compare to the real-life misery being faced by the Crescent City and its residents today, she told CNN's Paula Zahn.

"It is a cataclysm. It's something like the destruction of the city of Pompeii," she said in an interview to air Friday night on "Paula Zahn Now."

"We've just never seen anything like this in America, and it's happening to New Orleans -- the place where I was born that shaped my life, that shaped my novels, that shaped my whole career and where many, many people I love still live and work and struggle to deal with this crisis."

The now Southern California-based Rice, 63, grew up near the city's fabled Garden District, an elegant area filled with 19th-century homes and sturdy, deep-rooted trees that form canopies over the narrow streets. After she became famous, she and her husband purchased a 150-year-old house, a residence she vacated only after her spouse's death in 2002.

"There were times when living here was like living in paradise," she said of her time in the city. "It was like living in a fantasy."

The house, she says, may have been afflicted by the floodwaters: "I haven't been able to get a single clear answer if it is under water or not," she told Zahn.

Much of her family and friends still live in the area, and she's been keeping up with them as they've been scattered across the United States, a modern diaspora.

"New Orleanians are a great community, whether we're scattered throughout the city or all over the world, and we're exchanging messages about whose daughter or whose son just got found," she said. "My beloved assistant just found her son after being missing for three days. He had stayed in New Orleans to help people. He turned up at the Astrodome in Houston."

Her family, she added, is mostly "OK."

Rice demurred when asked about her reaction to various governments' evacuation and support procedures, issues that have roused great ire in recent weeks. But, she noted pointedly, critics should stop blaming the city's citizens for not leaving town.

"More New Orleanians responded to this evacuation than they ever had in the past to any storm," she pointed out. "[But] if you're a minimum-wage worker and you're living in a house with a 92-year-old mother with a walker and maybe a daughter-in-law with two small children, how are you going to get up and get out of New Orleans because the storm is coming? ... These are Americans. ... They did the best they could."

Despite the pain and long rebuilding process New Orleans faces, Rice is confident the city can be revived. Her imagination tends towards the fantastic, but, she said, re-creating New Orleans' greatness is no dream.

"Yes, we will rebuild. Let's hope we rebuild with something that prevents this kind of thing in the future," she said. "I don't think people will give up on this city that's been a great city for 200 years. I don't think people will give up on the birthplace of jazz and the home of Creole culture and the center of Cajun culture. ... Nobody wants to see this most unusual of cities die. ...

"I know water poured into the streets. But [it's] been flooded before. It's always come through."

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