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In Aftermath Of Hurricane Ida, Louisiana Residents Cope Without Gas Or Power In Extreme Heat

Shalina Chatlani/ Gulf States Newsroom
Heidi Thomas, of Marrero, Louisiana, waited for six hours at a gas station in Kenner. She needs the fuel to power a generator that her eight neighbors can use, Sept. 2, 2021.

Along St. Philip Street in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, Shemeka Joseph and her son, Phillip, can be found sitting on their front porch steps singing a song they wrote together. It’s just one of the ways they are passing time on a hot day without power and without gas to run a generator or a car.

“He just wrote a song about the experience he went through,” Joseph said of her son. “It goes like this: ‘I never been through a storm, I never been through a hurricane, never been through life, but my mom has been through it all.’”

Joseph can hardly hold back her tears when she sings it. Her windows are broken and open to the street. She and her son stay up all night watching the door and windows to make sure no one comes in. They have no power or air conditioning.

Her son said the experience was tough for him.

“It’s been hard for us. A lot. And I’m just so worried. When we have to sleep in the dark at night, I'll be shaking and crying,” he said.

Shalina Chatlani/Gulf States Newsroom
The Joseph children stayed during Hurricane Ida and said it was tough on them. But they find ways to cope, like riding a bike or playing with a neighborhood dog, September 1, 2021.

According to city officials, around 200,000 people stayed behind in New Orleans during Hurricane Ida. Given 2020 census estimates, that’s about half the city’s population. Some people say they stayed behind because they didn’t want to leave their belongings unguarded, or they felt they could ride out the storm.

But many in the city, like Joseph, didn’t have a choice. They didn’t have the money, the gas, or family connections to get out of dodge.

“I woulda been gone. I woulda left... Because I did not want them to go through what I went through during Katrina,” Joseph said.

‘We Shouldn’t Be In This Predicament Right Now’

As the heat beats down on the city, over 80% of people are still without power as of Thursday. Many of those people are still sticking around to wait for life to go back to normal.

The City of New Orleans opened about eight generator-powered cooling centers mid-week to give residents a place to cool down and charge their electronic devices. Some of them have meals to give out as well.

Shalina Chatlani/ Gulf States Newsroom
Shameka Joseph and her son, Sir Phillip Joseph, sit on the front steps of their home in Treme. They stayed through the storm because they didn’t have gas and their van was broken, Sept. 1, 2021.

Those cooling centers can only do so much to fulfill residents’ needs, however. People stuck in and outside of the city are desperately searching for gas to power their generators or fill up their cars so they can leave. Gas lines are long everywhere, even as far as 90-minutes outside of New Orleans. Some gas stations are even out of gas.

In Kenner, the largest city in neighboring Jefferson Parish, hundreds of people, like Heidi Thomas, waited for hours in the heat to fill up gas cans on Wednesday

“I’m very upset. I feel like we shouldn’t be in this predicament right now,” Thomas said. “Nowhere we go have gas. Everywhere we go, super long lines for gas.”

Thomas’ roof was blown off of her house in Marrero. She was able to fill up five gas cans after a six-hour wait and will use them to power a generator she’s sharing with eight neighbors. Her kids have been sleeping in their cars at night with the air conditioning going and they have a few window units going to keep rooms cool for the elderly.

“I was here for Katrina and it was a little bit organized ... we was able to get gas and maneuver around a little bit better than we are right now,” Thomas said.

Shalina Chatlani/Gulf States Newsroom
Hundreds of people wait in line for hours at a gas station in Kenner on Sept. 1, 2021.

‘We Are Taking Care Of One Another’

For many who can’t find resources like a gas station, there are other ways to cope. Just down the street from Shameka Joseph in Treme, Kashante Keelen can be seen sliding a porch chair into the sliver of shade under the edge of her roof, making room for her and a few neighbors to try to cool off through the afternoon.

“Even the dog is hot!! Jojo doesn't even wanna bark any more!” Keelen jokes as she sits outside.

Keelen neighbor, Gayle Joseph, said she would love to go to a cooling center, but she has a heart condition and is worried about COVID-19. She’s fully vaccinated but fears she could still get the virus and get sick.

Shalina Chatlani/Gulf States Newsroom
Kashante Keelen (left) and Deshon George (right) sit outside their house in Treme. They say they’re lucky because their neighbor has a generator they can use, Sept. 1, 2021.

But she’s lucky, because she has a generator. Keelen said they’ve all put their food in Gayle Joseph’s fridge to keep cool while they figure out how to get the other supplies — like gas, water and ice — that they need.

“We are taking care of one another,” Keelen said. “Giving each other water, going to get ice, cooking, checking on all of the other neighbors, just trying to stay as comfortable as we can.”

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.
Shalina Chatlani is the health care 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.

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