Pearl River Everyone I know has learned how to use our local electric utility Entergy app in order to look at their map to try and figure out whether or not their block in their neighborhood and, just maybe, their house has power now eleven days after Hurricane Ida’s impact hit New Orleans. Red means you are out of luck. Green is supposed to mean, you’re among the fortunate. Except that sometimes, green says power and in real life, no such thing. Very frustrating.
The CEO of Entergy’s New Orleans operation says that sometimes the website is ahead of reality. What does that possibly mean, and how is it anything other than ineptness? She also says that Entergy should be congratulated for restoring power so quickly, which makes her a particularly lonely voice in this wilderness. No one believes that. Everyone believes that they should have been prepared and furthermore are now caught in a web of their own lies when they argued for the construction of a gas-powered plant in the city to prevent outages, which wasn’t powered up for days and because of the transmission lines, was functionally a fabrication. The headlines are succinct and clear: if Katrina was about levees, Ida is about energy.
I listened to part of a planning call conducted by A Community Voice, ACORN’s affiliate in Louisiana the other day. There had been some confusion on the rumor mill about the state and FEMA reimbursing $800 for generators and $200 for chainsaws for people accepted for disaster relief on top of $500. People were running to take advantage. There were towering stacks of generators at Lowes and Home Depots throughout the metro area. Factually, the generators would only be reimbursed if an applicant could prove it was medically necessary and prescribed. A generator had kept my brother’s breathing machine running some years ago in a hurricane-inspired power outage, so we know the drill. The health department is giving away free carbon monoxide testing devices, and people are getting sick, and, in some cases, dying through misuse. The members want solar generators. Everything about this crisis is pushing people towards alternative sources from homes to businesses.
The health department is going to have its day as well, both good and bad. Given the power of the nursing home lobby, the fact that the state department of health took away the license on seven homes owned by a big political donor who had put 800 patients in a warehouse in Baton Rouge without proper facilities is big news. The local health department shut down eight assisted living centers, many run by the Archdiocese, and found five dead there, and the city is clear that the operators were responsible. That doesn’t end the public health debate. Why was Orleans slower to close these facilities than neighboring Jefferson Parish?
Energy and public health aren’t alone. Was the plan good enough on transportation, contraflow, and mandatory versus voluntary evacuations? How about internet and the primary city provider, Cox, and the fact that even with power, they are more down than up around the city, preventing return? How about relief efforts, the problems of back up water and sewer on the power outage, and more?
The list goes on. Katrina sixteen years ago taught many lessons. Ida is teaching some new ones, and the answers need to be different and better. We’re not alone in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana anymore. Climate change is now coming for all of us, we just may be getting hit hardest first.