Ida is a nice grandmotherly name. Maybe not a granny who baked cookies but one who taught Sunday school and was way too nice to give her name for a hurricane, much less for one that is arriving in the middle of a pandemic on the anniversary of Katrina.
When I went to sleep at midnight on Thursday, August 26th, the National Hurricane Center listed her only as a tropical storm and hurricane watches were just being issued for the Gulf Coast from Cameron, Louisiana to the Mississippi/Alabama border.
I did pack a go-bag with three days worth of clothes (more echoes of Katrina) but figured I had another couple of days before I would need to decide about bugging out. Usually, I evacuate for anything above a Category 1 that looks like a direct or slightly to the west hit. Some of it is because New Orleans is basically an island with only a few bridges anchoring it to the rest of the state but it is also because I’ve got responsibilities to see the rest of my family gets through the storm, too.
On Friday morning, as I was moving the plants outside to safer places, my Dad called. He was concerned about the rapid strengthening and the warmth of the Gulf waters. He said I needed to get out as soon as possible. I stuffed as many bottles of water as I could into the voids of my refrigerator freezer and stand freezer, secured the rest of my outdoor things and drove off that afternoon.
As guilty as I felt leaving behind my city, my friends and my things, I’m glad I got on the road then. Watching the gridlock on I-10 and surrounding routes on TV the next morning, made me worry more and more.
There is just no way to move an entire city’s population out of harm’s way without time. And time is what we didn’t have with this storm. New Orleans needs more than 72 hours to get everyone out in a mandatory evacuation, because the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of people stuck in their cars on the interstate when the storm hits. Seeing the images of the flooding this storm brought along I-10 in LaPlace shows just how dangerous that could be.
Once that storm hit the warm waters of the central Gulf, it grew and kept strengthening. No way could they start Contraflow and be finished before Ida hit land.
Landfall was at 2pm on August 29 as a Category 4 hurricane on the Sweet 16 of Hurricane Katrina’s. It remained a Category 4 for six hours. It reached the New Orleans area as a Category 3 (that is 115 mph winds) around 8pm. At nine hours, it was downgraded to a Category 2. A little after 4:30 am on Monday, as it was about 30 miles from Baton Rouge, Ida weakened to a Category 1 (with 95 mph sustained winds). It was almost 6:30am on Monday before Ida dropped classification to a tropical storm – that was 16 hours over land as a hurricane.
As with all hurricanes, the worst of the damaging wind and rain extended out on the East side of the storms for miles. Over where I decamped in Foley, Alabama, we had tropical storm winds, major thunderstorms and flash floods. Even once downgraded, Ida wasn’t done – she left a swath of destruction all the way to New York, causing several deaths and spawning tornados that wrecked their own devastation.
Several Louisiana towns near landfall were essentially wiped off the map. Damages to the lower parishes was sometimes as high as 100% of the buildings. It wasn’t just property damaged but hundreds of thousands left with no water, no power.
All eight transmission lines into the city of New Orleans were downed when the tower went down. Over a million households were without power in the city as a heatwave continued.
Entergy gave different estimates of when power would come back but when I went there on Thursday, only a few blocks had power. The good news was that the generators Sewerage and Water had brought in ahead of the storm were still working so storm water was being pumped out and water pressure was good, meaning tap water was safe to drink.
I was so glad to pull into the driveway and see my house still standing. Built in the 1860’s it has gone through many storms and, to my great relief and wonder, it had weathered another. I could see lots of debris and one of the metal window awnings was on the ground beside the house and one of the exterior lights was pointed the wrong way but, from the front, she looked fine.
I wandered through the house, looking at the ceilings and windows and nothing was broken or leaking. In the back yard, one of the trees I planted after Katrina had fallen and took out my neighbor’s fence on its way down. As it could have taken down part of our houses had it fallen another way, I was thankful only the fence suffered.
Several of my fence boards had blown loose and were scattered around the yard. Tree limbs littered the back yard and some of the siding looked scraped and dinged but the house was intact and even my little plastic shed had survived.
Climbing into the attic, I couldn’t see any daylight from above and the powerful flashlight I had didn’t illuminate any water stains, so I figure my roof was in one piece. It was incredibly hot up there and I was drenched and shakey when I climbed down.
I walked around to my neighbors, distributing the ice, batteries and water I had brought in with me and listened to their stories of coming through the storm. The rain and wind was scary at the time but the current uncertainty of when power would be restored drained away any giddiness of surviving a major storm.
Only one other person had evacuated before the storm but three had left since for Houston as living with no air conditioning saps at your soul. One more family was planning to leave the next day to head to Mobile. The men across the street were fussing with their mother to get her to leave. They were running out of gas for their generator that was keeping the fans moving the hot, humid air and feared for her health if she stayed.
Before I had left, I put a quarter on top of a cup of frozen water to use as a gauge to the food safety. After four days without power, the cup only had a chip of ice remaining and meant too much thawing had happened for the food to be edible. I emptied my fridge into trash bags and hauled them to the street.
My stand freezer had kept the contents pretty frozen. I lost some of the stuff on the door and top shelf but most of the rest was safe to transport in the coolers back to Michelle’s house in Mississippi. The guys next door helped me load the car and I locked up and drove off, planning to return once the power is back on again.
I’ll write more later but I wanted to end this report by mentioning how grateful I am that so many of my friends made it through the storm. I’m even more in awe of the number of friends from outside the area who have been reaching into their pockets to help out those who were impacted. If anyone is looking for places to donate to, I recommend Culture Aid NOLA and the Mutual Aid Response Network, both are local grassroots organizations helping feed, clothe and rebuild after the disaster.
Further, I’m thankful for the line workers who came in their hundreds from across the nation to help bring power back to the region. Sing along with this cartoon from Marshall Ramsey (@MarshallRamsey)
As Mr Rogers taught us – Look for the helpers.