Ida Update

Today, Hurricane Ida, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 MPH winds, is making landfall in southeast Louisiana. My family and I evacuated Friday night, luckily avoiding heavy traffic, and we are safe at Lake Martin, Alabama. Some of our friends and family stayed and are hunkered down in their homes. Others left yesterday and sat in heavy traffic for hours to reach safety. There is no way to describe the anxiety we will feel throughout the day and into the evening. Not until tomorrow will we know the status of our home, our loved ones, and our city.

We evacuate early and often for storms. We don’t have a generator, and we have little tolerance for prolonged power outages with young children, especially in the heat of late August. Most of the time we go through this effort, and the long drive, for nothing. So Friday afternoon, when we decided to leave town, I packed very little. I didn’t even bother to grab the folder of important documents I put together in case of an emergency. I regret not grabbing a few sentimental items.

We decided to screw a few braces onto the French doors opening to our backyard. The doors flew open several times during Hurricane Zeta last fall, and that would have caused a wet mess had we not been home to close them. I unplugged the iMac at my office and a few of our appliances at home. These are the only things we did differently than during a normal evacuation. In fact, I packed less than I would for a normal 3-day weekend. So strange.

Ida is barreling down on New Orleans on the 16th anniversary of Katrina. It’s hard to believe the irony. I don’t have a Katrina story. I watched the levees break from the 9th-floor trading desk of 1285 Avenue of the Americas as a young sales assistant at UBS.

New Orleans’ flood protection is vastly different than it was 16 years ago when the levees failed. Today we have the strongest flood protection system in the world. It will be put to its first major test, and I am confident. I chair a citizen advocacy group called Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans. Founded after Katrina, this group of volunteers, mostly women, called for the overhaul of our local levee boards. They successfully passed a statewide Constitutional amendment that removed political patronage and ensured that flood protection experts were placed on levee district governing boards. The Army Corps of Engineers built the new $14.5 billion flood protection system, but our local levee boards must maintain them. We are a different city today, and we will be safer for it.

The major concerns for New Orleans today are street floods caused by heavy rainfall and wind damage. I hope we will be spared the worst of both. I worry about those living outside the levees and for the residents of coastal Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. I also think of the physicians, nurses, EMTs, and other first responders who are already weary from the fourth wave of Covid. We have friends who are elected officials, key personnel at local refineries, police officers, and those who staff critical water, power, and flood infrastructure.

We spend years preparing for the next big storm. We are ready, we are resilient. My role is to evacuate to safety and wait to see how I can assist afterward. It’s tough to watch from a distance when my heart remains back home. If you are a praying person, please pray for New Orleans and all of southeast Louisiana today.

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