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200K Stayed In New Orleans During Hurricane Ida. Now, They're Worried About The Coming Weeks

Sharon Fontenot and her dog, Nyla, sit on the stoop of a French Quarter apartment as Hurricane Ida damage assessment begins.
Aubri Juhasz
Sharon Fontenot and her dog, Nyla, sit on the stoop of a French Quarter apartment as Hurricane Ida damage assessment begins.

As Hurricane Ida barreled toward the Louisiana coast, rapidly intensifying quicker than officials predicted, many throughout the southeastern region of the state packed up their cars, made room for pets, grabbed the hurricane snacks they had purchased earlier in the week and hit the road for safer destinations.

At least 200,000 people in New Orleans, however, stayed behind as the Category 4 storm battered the city and surrounding areas.

For some, this isn’t the first time they’ve hunkered down during a storm, and Ida brought back the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans 16 years ago to the day that Ida made landfall. They found themselves explaining — again — why they stayed through a storm that was predicted to be catastrophic while they surveyed the damage of their homes.

“I don't want any judgment from anyone about who decided to stay and who decided to leave,” said resident Tiffany Bailey, who added that the evacuation order in New Orleans was voluntary.

WWNO reporters spoke to residents, who were just beginning to pick up the destruction wrought by Ida the morning after landfall. These are the voices of the ones that, for a multitude of reasons, stayed through the storm.

Been Here Before

Bailey rode out the storm at her Treme home with her two elderly pets. She said it was the scariest storm she’s ever hunkered down in, even more so than Katrina.

She’s still traumatized from the last time she tried to leave the city 16 years ago during Hurricane Katrina after being stuck on the road for hours trying to evacuate. Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi.

She knew this storm, a Category 4 at landfall that brought sustained winds of 140 mph to southeast Louisiana, would be worse, but financially, leaving wasn’t an option.

“We didn't really have the money to stay in a hotel for a couple more than a few days,” Bailey said. “And I had a feeling that it was going to be more than a few days that we were going to have to stay.”

City officials said Monday that if residents evacuated, they should stay where they are “until further notice.” Most of the state had only begun to assess the storm damage that same morning, finding significant damage, piles of debris, downed power lines and mass power outages that Gov. John Bel Edwards said could affect up to 1.1 million people in the state.

David Bakker started sifting through some debris Monday as well. At the French Quarter multi-apartment building he oversees, a bathroom wall was gone, part of another wall was blown out and a tree across the street had split.

“This here was five times worse than Katrina and was way worse than Laura and Zeta last year because I rode them all out,” Bakker said.

David Bakker, Aug. 31, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz
David Bakker, Aug. 30, 2021.

Downstairs, one of his tenants, Sharon Fontenot, said she knows what it’s like to be without power in the aftermath of a big storm. She evacuated to New Orleans about a year ago after Hurricane Laura devastated Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“I lost everything I had. My landlord threw everything out while I was here, five days after Laura,” Fontenot said. “I swear I think I have PTSD from all of this.”

Sharon Fontenot, Aug. 31, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz
Sharon Fontenot, Aug. 30, 2021.

Her circumstances in Lake Charles made evacuating this time financially untenable for Fontenot and her dog, Nyla. She’s planning to stay in New Orleans because she has nowhere else to go.

Road To Recovery

It was five weeks before Entergy was able to restore power to all customers after Hurricane Laura, Fontenot remembers. Despite nearly 20,000 linemen making their way to the state, the same could be true for power restoration after Ida.

An update from Entergy on when power could be restored to most of the city is supposed to come later Tuesday, but officials have reiterated that residents could be in the dark for weeks.

The mass power outages are coinciding with one of the hottest months of the year. Louisiana’s summer has already seen several days that called for a heat advisory, and those who didn’t evacuate already know they’re in for a brutal few weeks of likely scorching temps.

Barbara Gordon, 72, walked through the sweltering heat from her apartment downtown to the Convention Center with hopes of evacuating after a 311 operator told her to go there. She can’t leave New Orleans on her own because of finances and a lack of transportation.

Barbara Gordon, Aug. 31, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz
Barbara Gordon, Aug. 30, 2021.

An hour-long trek on foot later, she was told she was not in the right place but would be transported to the city’s pop-up shelter on Broad St. The thought of the next couple of weeks living without air conditioning in New Orleans is worrisome to Gordon, and she only hopes officials will give people like her a way out.

“Even if they have to put us up in hotels in another state, as long as it’s to some place with air conditioning,” Gordon said.

Felix Allen, a drummer who moved to New Orleans just before the strong Category 2 Hurricane Zeta packed a punch on the city last year, said it’s been too hot to do what he loves most because of the power outages.

Felix Allen, Aug. 31, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz
Felix Allen, Aug. 30, 2021.

To get through the next few days, he plans to go to an empty lot outside in the Marigny, not quite as stifling as his home right now, to practice the drums.

His set-up might work for a handful of days, but he’ll consider leaving if he’s without power for weeks more. He, like most residents, are just waiting on a more definitive timeline from officials so they can figure out how to live through one of Louisiana’s most catastrophic hurricanes.

“I hate to see that we got hit again, but we'll bounce back like we always do,” Allen said.

In Treme, Bailey began surveying the damage just as everyone else was doing in the city. Most of it was minor, and everything that was badly damaged at her place can be replaced.

But she’s worried about the heat, her pets, one of which is diabetic, and how she and others who felt their options were limited will be perceived in the days moving forward.

“Now's the time for us to come together as a community, as a state, and not to be judgmental,” Bailey said. “Especially if you never lived here and never been through any of this.”

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.
Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.

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