Hard Rain, Lights Out, and the Hurricane Watch

New Orleans  Seven years ago to the day, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and we’re still living in the wake of that storm.  To say that Isaac wasn’t as bad is almost saying nothing, other than how lucky we were to be spared.  70% of the Greater New Orleans area has been without power, some 700,000 people, since as early as 8PM on Tuesday night, and most can expect to stay that way another couple of days.  There is no perfect science to hurricane prediction and for all of the predictable back slapping that will come from the politicos and the Corps of Engineers when this one has passed, there is also no perfect, seamless response.

When they say “hurricane watch,” believe me, they mean hurricane watch, because that is about all you can do.  When we felt asleep last night we had lights, but around midnight as the storm hit, we lost them, and that story hasn’t changed.  The winds have continued to gust up to 70 and 80 mph even now long after the eye of the storm has passed.  Trees, branches, and debris are clogging up storm sewers and in some cases blocking the streets throughout the city.  Driving from the 9th Ward to Midcity to deal with Fair Grinds Coffeehouse meant detours around various parts of Esplanade to escape damage, which is also part of the reason the power is out.  The rain has been relentless and extensive, probably reaching a dozen inches or more before Issac finally quits the field.  This means that in addition to limbs cracking and breaking in the wind, the ground gets wetter and wetter in our marshland sog until some of the weeping willows and Bardford pears just topple over from the unnatural conditions.  Even native cypress trees are not immune though.

Gusting wind and pelting rain mixed with no electricity in the overcast skies means that about all that many can – or want – to do is watch.  At 2pm I finally drove over and turned on the generator at Fair Grinds to save the stock and prevent spoilage and to see if we could get enough up and running to open for business for the Fair Grinds community in the morning.  Shuffling stuff from the back three freezers and refrigerators to the front two behind coffee bar would allow us to get back cooking.  Running a huge cord through an open door in the patio to the coffee bar seemed crazy, but it was working.  The shop was in good shape, but the streets were deserted save for people knocking to see if we could possibly be open or whatever.

I was thinking about how much grief I take about my 13-year old 4WD Suburban except in times like this as I drove back to beat the curfew, check on the generator and add some gas, and put up a note that we would try and open on Thursday morning.  Virtually as I put my key in the door, the lights outside came on.  Unbelievably!  We had the power, which also meant that I could turn off the generator, which would help me sleep better in Bywater, and definitely be raring to go in the morning.

How did it happen?  The rest of the neighborhood was still dark.  A customer tried to offer me a dollar for plugging in her phone for 5 minutes.  The radio was saying that Entergy crews would not be able to start restoring power until midnight when the gusts were gone.  In fact I’m typing this by candlelight in the pitch darkness of the 9th ward now.

Who knows, but it’s about time to once again stop the hurricane watching and begin the rebuilding.  Assess the number of roof tiles in the yard, see if the hole in the canoe can be patched where a shutter’s hardware punctured it cleanly, find that missing cover for the grill, and see which plants can be propped back up to fight for the sun another day.

Hurricane watching.  Hurricane working.  The life cycle of the city.

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