New Orleans resident Joe Frisard has dealt with his fair share of hurricanes. “I’ve lived here my entire life,” he said, “and Ida was the worst wind I’d ever experienced. It seemed like it would never end.”
Hurricane Ida slammed through the Louisiana coast on Sunday afternoon with 230 kph (150 mph) winds, making it the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the continental United States. The Category Four storm did severe damage to coastal communities throughout the day and was responsible for at least two deaths, according to state health officials. By the time it reached New Orleans, its winds had weakened, but not enough to spare the state’s largest city from damage.
Thousands of New Orleans residents who chose to stay or were unable to leave the Big Easy were met with no less than 10 hours of heavy rain and relentless winds. The constant barrage left the entire city without power and some homes with downed trees and torn-off roofs.
“I could see the trees in my backyard swaying like those giant inflatable men in front of car dealerships,” Frisard said. “Water was leaking into the house that I was able to catch with buckets and soak up with towels.”
Frisard, the co-owner of a startup kombucha company, said he doesn’t regret staying to make sure his home made it through relatively unscathed, but now his attention has shifted to the next crisis.
“If power was going to be out for a few days, I’d stay,” he said, noting it’ll be challenging to find a hotel room with his two dogs. “But I’m hearing power might be out for weeks.”
City and utility officials spent Monday assessing the severity of the damage, but private energy provider Entergy Corporation confirmed that 216 substations and 2,000 miles of transmission lines — including a tower that collapsed along the Mississippi River — are down in Louisiana, leaving more than 1 million residents without electricity. Entergy promises a team of 20,000 to repair the damage, but it’s unclear how long that will take.
“I need to sweep up fallen tree branches and debris, and then I need to figure out where I’m going to stay until we have power again,” Frisard said. “That’s my next priority.”
The tens of thousands of New Orleans residents who decided to evacuate in advance of the storm are dealing with a different set of challenges.
“First, we needed to figure out where to go,” explained Colin Ash. Sunday was the 16th anniversary of the devastation and death that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on the region. Ash said the anniversary factored into his decision to leave. “My mom lives nearby and she has horrible memories from that storm, like so many people here do. So we decided to evacuate.”
They stayed with family in Jackson, Mississippi, even though Jackson was in the path of the storm and experienced the effects of a weakened Tropical Storm Ida on Monday afternoon. Ash said he was still happy with his decision.
“I know a lot of people who left west toward Texas or east toward the Gulf Coast, and they were stuck in an entire day’s worth of traffic on Saturday,” he said. “We were able to avoid that misery.”
Plus, it keeps him less than three hours from New Orleans, where all of Ash’s personal belongings remain. He admits that not knowing how his home made it through the storm created some anxiety.
“I have no idea what’s damaged,” he said. “I’m going to need to go back there and check things out over the next few days.”
He likely will be returning to a city completely without power. But Ash said he has little choice.
“For one, I left so quickly, I only packed one pair of shorts and need to get more,” he said. “And secondly, have you ever smelled a refrigerator that sits too long after the power goes out? I’ll drive in, clean it out and then leave before it gets dark. Then the next time I’ll be back is when I can return for good.”