Residents of Louisiana, for whom Hurricane Katrina is still a painful recent memory, are now dealing with a new catastrophe as Tropical Storm Ida wreaks havoc in the state, particularly the New Orleans area, and parts of Mississippi and Alabama. This storm, like its deadly predecessor is revealing the impact of economic inequality for many.
“Never in my life have I encountered something this major,” Robert Owens, who lives in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles from New Orleans, told the Associated Press. He said that he and his family had no choice to wait out the hurricane because they could not afford gas and a hotel room to escape it elsewhere. “Our bank account is empty – we can’t afford to leave.”
Most people in his community, he said, are in the same situation and are prevented by finance from leaving and must brave the storm. “There people who have funds to lean on are able to get out of here, but there’s a big chunk of people that are lower-income that don’t have a savings account to fall on,” said Owens. “We’re left behind.”
The storm made landfall Sunday (Aug. 29) as a Category 4 Hurricane with 145 mph winds, tearing roofs off buildings, flooding roadways and shutting down power for more than 1 million people, but it was downgraded to a tropical storm overnight, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Along with the widespread power outage, which has enveloped the entire city of New Orleans, 911 systems and cell phone towers are not functioning in areas like Orleans, St. Tammany, LaFourche, St. Charles, and Jefferson Parishes. Officials are telling residents to remain in their homes and not venture onto the streets and roadways unless they absolutely have to. However, some residents report being trapped in attics or on rooftops as they wait in the heavy rains and winds for help.
New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell did not mandate an evacuation for all residents of her city, because the storm approached so quickly. “We are not calling for a mandatory evacuation because the time simply is not on our side. We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger,” she said on Friday as the city prepared for the storm.
Currently the New Orleans Police Department is warning everyone to stay inside their homes due to the dangerous prevalence of down trees debris and live power lines.
During Hurricane Katrina, the major problem was not the storm itself, which hit the area as a Category 1 storm, but the damage it did to the poorly maintained levee system failed to keep waters from Lake Pontchartrain from flooding the city, which resulted in more than 1,800 deaths, many of them Black and economically challenged.
This time, the levee system seems to be holding so far, but not everyone in the city lives within the system and for them an evacuation was mandated. However, while the Gulf area is still in the midst of the storm, it is unclear what the actual toll will be. Officials say one person was killed in his home by a falling tree in Ascension Parish, The Advocate reports.
The trouble for people like Owens threatens to exacerbate their current problems as he says his family, consisting of his wife, mother-in-law, roommate and four pets would be forced to shelter in their car if their home is no longer safe.
“The fact that we are not middle class or above, it just kind of keeps coming back to bite us over and over again, in so many different directions and ways — a simple pay-day advance being one of them,” Owens told the AP. “It’s like we’re having to pay for being poor, even though we’re trying to not be poor.”