Friday, September 24

New Orleans, marked by Katrina, assesses the damage of Hurricane Ida: “It was like a monster trying to get in”

The sun was rising over New Orleans, and in the quiet streets of the Lower Ninth Ward only the crunch of footsteps on waste could be heard. They were neighbors who had come out to assess damage in the neighborhood where Hurricane Katrina left some of its worst scars. In 2005, the failure of the New Orleans levee system submerged the Lower Ninth in water, wiping out the lives and livelihoods of many people.

The events of 16 years ago were still present in the minds of many of those who this Sunday, the anniversary of the impact of Katrina in Louisiana, were preparing to face a new storm, Ida.

The Ida Pass

Wesley Foster, a 74-year-old retiree, has lived in Lower Ninth his entire life. All the memories of then returned when he saw how the hurricane hit the walls of the house he had rebuilt after Katrina.

He had seen on the news that the storm was increasing in intensity over the Gulf and that it was making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, one of the most powerful to ever hit the United States. “It went from one to two, to three, to four very quickly,” he says. “I knew it was going to be tough, but 10 hours of strong wind …”.

He pauses. “It was like a monster was trying to get in.”

Foster is not alone in highlighting the rapidly increasing ferocity of the hurricane, a growing trend in the Atlantic hurricane season that scientists link to the climate crisis.

Formed just four days ago in the Caribbean, Ida escalated so quickly that New Orleans authorities claim they had not had time to order the evacuation of the city. It made landfall with winds reaching speeds of 240 kilometers per hour, before slowly cutting through New Orleans and reaching Baton Rouge, the state capital. A trajectory born of nightmares.

But Foster also felt some relief on Monday. This time there have been no destructive floods in Lower Ninth thanks to the multi-million dollar investment in the city’s protective levee system and mercifully lower storm surge floods than 16 years ago.

However, for Foster and other neighbors big problems await after the storm: The Ida has caused the fall of an essential transformer into the Mississippi River and has left the entire city of New Orleans without power.

Authorities estimate that more than a million homes and businesses across Louisiana are still without power and have warned that it could take weeks before the power grid repairs. “I have enough fuel to run my generator for another day,” says Foster. “That is all”.

Storm Ida, which is credited with at least four deaths, has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but this Monday continued to cause flooding and torrential rains in Louisiana and southern Mississippi state. With impassable roads, cell phones without coverage in several areas, and many gas stations out of service, the full effect of their fury remains to be seen.

No food or water

As another day of intense heat began, with high humidity and 32 degrees of temperature, the inhabitants of New Orleans began to wonder what they would do next, without a specific deadline for the restoration of normality.

The road to Jefferson Parish, on the west side of the city, is a symbol of the destruction caused by Ida: power pylons downed by the roadsides; trees downed and split in half blocking the way; and cables dangling precariously overhead.

In Bridge City, across the Mississippi River, residents recall the anguish they experienced Sunday night as they search through the rubble. Ida hit harder here than on the other side of the river and there are already some thinking of packing to leave.

“We were not prepared to lose power,” says Karen Brown. He says that with Katrina he did not run out of electricity at home. “We have no idea how long we will be without electricity or how we are going to eat.”

The Brown family only has provisions for one more day. With no generator, they were thinking of sitting on the porch in the humidity and praying for a quick resolution. Their home is a few feet from the levees on this side of the Mississippi, and they are still giving thanks that there was no crack.

Karen Plaisance, one of her neighbors, is also grateful. The winds from Ida severely damaged its roof but did not completely blow it away.

But Plaisance, 59, is unemployed and says he doesn’t know what to do. “I have no food to cook, no water,” he says. Sitting inside the house is his stepfather, with mobility problems and under his care. “I would have liked to have gone with Katrina, this time I’m not staying.”

Translated by Francisco de Zárate.

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