- Hurricane Idea tore through the Gulf Coast on Sunday, leaving one million Louisianians without power.
- But for the tens of thousands who fled ahead of the storm, the road home is paved with uncertainty.
- Insider spoke to four Louisiana residents about the frustration and anxiety Hurricane Ida left behind.
Jacolbi Rivers doesn’t remember much about Hurricane Katrina. He was only seven years old.
But the Louisiana native won’t soon forget Hurricane Ida.
“My friends and family who stayed for this hurricane, they were saying this was the worst they’ve ever experienced,” he told Insider.
Hurricane Ida battered the Gulf Coast over the weekend, leaving at least one person dead and more than one million Louisianians without power in her wake of destruction. While New Orleans’ levees held strong, the embankments didn’t stop Ida from delivering massive structural damage, downed power lines, and substantial flooding throughout the hurricane-prone city.
In the state’s smaller, less well-known towns and parishes, the devastation has been tremendous.
Over the years, Rivers, 22, and his family have weathered several hurricane scares and tropical storm warnings in their LaPlace home, located northwest of New Orleans along the east bank of the Mississippi River. Ahead of Ida’s landfall last week, they even considered hunkering down and riding out the storm nearby.
But a particularly persistent cousin convinced the family to evacuate to Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, nearly twenty-four hours ahead of Ida’s Category 4 landfall in Louisiana.
“Yesterday, looking at the news and hearing about LaPlace, we all turned to her to say ‘thank you for being so persuasive,'” Rivers said.
As the storm dissipates, evacuees are now stuck in limbo.
Rivers and his family are among the tens of thousands of people who evacuated ahead of the hurricane who now find themselves in limbo, unable to return home and survey the inevitable damage as the region deals with the dangers posed by ongoing flooding, power outages, and structural damage.
In New Orleans’ first official update since the storm, city officials pushed an emergency text notification to city residents on Monday morning, telling those who left ahead of the hurricane to stay out of the city until further notice.
The main issue preventing their safe return is the lack of power to the entire city. Entergy executives said Monday it will likely take days to determine how badly damaged the city’s power grid is, and even longer to restore full electricity to the region.
“It’s a very strange feeling to not know when you can go home,” said New Orleans resident Lisa Collins. “To not know what the next few weeks will hold.”
Collins, who grew up on the Northshore of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, has seen her share of hurricanes. As a former TV news producer in New Orleans, she spent years covering the storms from the ground.
But on Sunday, she and her family watched the storm from her parents’ home, where power remains only thanks to a generator.
Meanwhile, the unknowns continue to grow.
It’s unclear when Collins’ two daughters — or the tens of thousands of other school children in the region — will return to school. Hurricane-spurred class cancellations and indefinite school closures come as the city’s schools were already grappling with a surge of COVID-19 cases and quarantines — yet another complication to the impending hurricane response.
Nor is there a timeline for when those who fled will be able to reenter the city to survey the possible damage to the homes they left behind. Once residents are allowed back into the city, they may only be permitted to conduct “look and leaves” — a hurricane procedure wherein residents return to their homes to check out the damage and grab any additional necessities before being forced out once again for their safety.
“It’s frustrating to be gone from your home and rely on neighbors to give you updates,” Collins said.
Claire McKenna, an Uptown resident of nearly six years, received one such update from her neighbor following the storm.
“My neighbors stayed and texted me to let me know I had a window that kind of busted through,” she told Insider. “My landlord was able to go and reseal my window back up last night, but we’re still not sure if there’s water damage.”
Regina Ballew, a New Orleans transplant and teacher, is still waiting for any status update on the Uptown home she rents. A nearby neighbor noted that his home experienced leaking and minor roof damage.
“I expect some damage to be done to the house, but to what regard, I have no idea,” she said.
For Rivers’ home in LaPlace, the question isn’t if there will be damage, but how much. The town, nestled between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, took a significant amount of damage. Rescue efforts are already underway following a deluge of flooding and downed power lines.
Rivers and his family heard from neighbors on Monday who said they were trying to secure a damaged bedroom wall in place. Another family friend reported their home was completely swamped. Rivers and his family have yet to receive an update on their house but he said their main concern is damage to the roof.
“It’s nerve-wracking and frustrating, because we’re trying to get a clear understanding,” he said. “We know they’re doing the best they can…but at the same time, why can’t we know what’s going on?”
Those who evacuated are playing a waiting game.
While the anxiety of not knowing is all-consuming, the residents Insider spoke to acknowledged that in many cases, they were the lucky ones.
“We’re really lucky to be staying with family,” McKenna, who evacuated to Tallahassee said. “It’s easy for us to be staying put.”
Ballew and Collins, too, both have housing options while they wait.
But Rivers, whose family is staying in a hotel in Arkansas, said the ongoing uncertainty could eventually pose a financial concern.
“Thankfully we have the means to evacuate. But paying for food, for extra nights, it’s like how far can we go before we have to cut it short or eventually go home or somewhere more affordable?” he said.
He hopes they’ll be able to return to LaPlace to check on the house before having to move again.
Hurricane Ida’s timing brings memories of a past storm.
In a cruel sense of cosmic timing, Hurricane Ida pummeled South Louisiana on Sunday, sixteen years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, killing more than 1,800 people.
For those who experienced both, it’s hard not to draw parallels.
“You kind of have to stop thinking about it. You have to separate yourself,” Collins said. “Say ‘this is a different storm. It’s a different city now.'”
“But it’s really hard to think about the days and weeks after Katrina,” she added. “The emotional wear-and-tear.”
She noted that Ida caused significantly fewer deaths, rescue demands, and flooded buildings than Katrina, but the complete lack of power across the region already seems eerily reminiscent of the chaotic days and weeks that followed the 2005 storm.
“People measure their life pre and post-Katrina,” Collins said. “And I think this will be another storm that people make a touchstone of their life.”