New Orleans Storms around Labor Day get my full attention. Betsy hit hard in the fall of 1965 right after school began and took more than a week to get everything back in gear. Katrina in 2005 hit at the end of August and decimated the city of New Orleans in what is now an oft-told tale still looking for a happy ending, fifteen years later. Now in 2020, the year of the worst pandemic in one-hundred years and the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have now had five, yes, count them, five, storms hit Louisiana. Lake Charles in the western part of the state caught a double whammy of terrible proportion. Other storms with other names had glanced New Orleans with more bark than bite as kind of nothing-burgers.
Then here comes Zeta, so far down the hurricane chain that even the Greek alphabet is exhausted by the horror of this season. This one smacked us around a bit, as a category 2. When I left work at 5pm thinking I should buckle down a couple of more shutters at the house, I was surprised rolling down Elysian Fields from the lake towards the river to see, gulp, I was pretty much the last one on the road, and the wind was picking up. After some stops and starts, power went off in our riverside neighborhood by 7pm, and now thirteen hours later as I write this, it’s still out there and in about one-third of the city. Cox Cable, the dominant internet provider, is ghosting now. There’s no power in our offices. The radio station is off the air. It’s going to be that kind of day.
I wrote a book, The Battle for the Ninth Ward: ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster, but in weathering Zeta, there are a few lessons I left out, that I’ll mention now.
- Gas stoves are the best! When electricity goes kaput for hours or perhaps days and weeks, you can still eat. This morning I was able to eat my oatmeal and drink my coffee, thanks to a gas stove. My family had one in Betsy as well when power was down for over a week, as I recall.
- Stately old oak trees are beautiful and help define the city, but in a storm, they are nothing but dangerous. Weakened branches are every everywhere, including the yard in front of our organizing center. Worse, I can see a very large branch, dangling over the sidewalk by a fiber. Walkers and gawkers will be watching their feet not to trip on fallen timber, but they need to keep one eye to the sky for what is ready to fall.
- Why haven’t the city and Entergy, the power company, come to grips with the need to bury the power lines after all of these hurricanes? Our organizing & retreat center is in a neighborhood developed by the Orleans Levee Board in the mid-1960s, and the lines are buried, so, voila, I drove five miles in the dark in the predawn to now sit by shining lights.
Oh, and one more thing. This climate change thing is real!