AGMA Governor and New Orleans resident Julie Condy lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sixteen years to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Hurricane Ida arrived. In the Fall 2021 issue of AGMAzine, she shared her experience. We are so pleased to highlight this once more as part of our AGMAzine Spotlight Series.
August 28, 2021
It's nearly August 29 and time for another major hurricane in New Orleans.
Sixteen years ago, we were still using flip phones and Facebook was a toddler. It took days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina to find out information on the New Orleans Opera Chorus and our family and friends.
Back then, my house in New Orleans was flooded in the great man-made flood thanks to shoddy workmanship by the Corps of Engineers. We rebuilt our home in 2011. Yes, it took nearly six years!
Our 2011 house is as “hurricane proof” as you can get. Structurally insulated panels that withstand a Category 5 storm. Metal roof. Windows for high winds. Plus, our house is raised nine feet off the ground which is a good eight feet above the Katrina water level which was the level of Lake Pontchartrain just north of New Orleans (which was eight feet in the middle of the street and four feet in the house which sat for two weeks).
We will be fine, as we face Hurricane Ida. A neighbor has a whole house generator that we can plug into.
Evacuation routes both east and west are jammed bumper to bumper going 10 MPH! That is according to my Facebook friends who are evacuating. Some folks are staying though since the brunt of the storm is predicted further west. That projection should not change based on the weather conditions. Here winds of 70 -90 mph are predicted. Not so bad.
So, we are battering down the hatches under the house now.
This evening will be a wine and cheese party for the neighbors who are staying! When the power goes out, my husband Stephen will break out the working Victrola's to play Caruso and Galli-Curci along with Jelly Roll Morton by flashlight.
All in all, the entire area is much better prepared. At least at our home, we don't need to have an ax handy to punch a hole in the attic. (Seriously, that saved a lot of lives after Katrina.)
August 30, 2021
Ida was rough. Opera singers are brave. This was beyond me. It started at 9:30 a.m. and by 4:00 p.m. I was praying aloud to calm myself. For hours. The roar and pounding rain were terrifying and relentless. The storm music in Rigoletto was from a puppy of a storm. This noise far exceeded any wind noise that I have ever heard in my 60+ years of living in South Louisiana. (Yes, that is dramatic, and I do sing opera, so superlatives fit both me and the situation.)
The wind was coming at our home from due east horizontally so the noise level in the front portion of our home was chilling. Natural surround sound at horror-film level! My husband was unfazed throughout, though. He kept moving me to different rooms with fewer sound effects. By 8:00 p.m., he moved me to the bedroom at the back of the house where the sound was less forceful.
By 10:00 p.m. Ida was finally moving away from us. Slowly the roar drifted into the distance. First, it was no longer surrounding the house. Then it drifted further away. By midnight the roar was still solidly audible, simply the eeriest sounds I have ever heard. We were inside a very large tornado for over 14 hours. By 2:00 a.m. there was blessed silence. I specifically remember saying to my husband, “Do you hear that? No sounds. Finally gone.”
August 30, 2021
UPDATE: Water is back though there is a boil water advisory. We have limited power through a neighbor's generator. Was able to sleep this afternoon. The President has declared Ida as a disaster, so FEMA funding is available. Our house (built for hurricanes with FEMA money) held up like a champ. No damage. We have cell service with Verizon.
The storm has passed but is still breezy. Minor fence damage and a few downed limbs. No power or water. Cell phone batteries charged yesterday so have phone power. Our neighborhood did well overall. The pumping system installed by the parish worked quite well. The water rose in the streets and the pumps got it down before it got too high. Neighbors are helping neighbors.
That was a storm that did not want to leave! Our house was constructed on raised concrete columns to withstand a hurricane and came out fine. In 2012 during Hurricane Isaac, it shuddered once. In 2021 Ida shuddered her on and off for over 14 hours with winds at times more than 100 miles per hour horizontally pounding against the front of our home.
Oh, yes, our two cats slept through the entire ordeal.
Some family members in Louisiana have damage to their homes with missing shingles and downed fences. A friend’s family in Houma lost their roof while they were in the house! The wind noise was terrifying. Nature is a wonder. We will come together to support each other in the coming days.
August 31, 2021
If you are fleeing Louisiana, you are NOT a refugee. You have a home though inhospitable at the moment. You have a place and a country.
You are an EVACUEE. We went through this terminology battle after Katrina.
We are evacuees.
For us, that starts tomorrow. We'll be on the road to Memphis. We will get through this! The neighbor with the whole house generator is leaving and now so are we.
September 1, 2021 Part One
Seriously, this situation is devastating. Stephen [my husband] and I drove through Metairie and saw lots of minor damage with roofs missing shingles, fences down, utility poles leaning, signs down, and lots of downed trees. The big problem for Orleans and Jefferson parishes is the lack of utilities. No power and a trickle of water with a boil water order. All of the seven electrical transmitters that feed Orleans and Jefferson are down including one that fell into the Mississippi River.
Not possible to live in those conditions.
The overall emergency response has been very good. It takes 72 hours to mobilize the resources necessary. Today, food, ice, and water were in larger distribution much faster than after Katrina in 2005. A neighbor went to a distribution site and gave us two bags of ice. Came in handy!
The business and education interruption is so distressing. Schools are on hold for at least two weeks. Businesses that were suffering due to the pandemic are going to be in more financial dire straits.
But we got off easy. In other parishes, there is total devastation. For us, it will take several months to come back to normal. For those parishes, it will take five years or more.
MSNBC showed the flooding in Laplace. Horrible. (Saw that footage via smartphone not via cable TV.)
Glad we have a natural gas cooktop, so we cook up some morning java.
This morning was crazy. Generator cut off. Got it back then found out that this kind neighbor, Ronnie, decided to leave on Tuesday. So, no more fans after that.
We have to leave. Unlivable. Spent several hours locating accommodations in Memphis near family. Pet friendly does not mean cat friendly. Booked one hotel to find out they did not take cats! Yikes! Hilton Hotels hooked us up.
After we packed, we visited with neighbors who are staying put and they emptied our freezer of food to cook for those remaining. Discovered frozen shrimp from 2019. What a way to clean your fridge!
For lunch, we had defrosted tamales and dinner was the rest of the strawberry ice cream with whipped cream, both on their last legs.
The sun is rising. Slept for a few hours but it is so very hot. Made lists of what we need to bring by lantern light. Maybe that will help us speed up our evacuation.
September 1, 2021 Part Two
We are in Memphis now for likely 14 days. We will visit with family here. My granddaughter is in the school play and we will be here for it.
We call it a "hurri-cation."
Glad we are out of it. Now to calm down. I am definitely on edge. Fourteen hours of howling winds really worked on my last nerve. Ronnie has a friend with a business at Port Port Fourchon where Ida came ashore at the Gulf of Mexico. His business had a wind meter that clocked 184 MPH!
October 29, 2021 Epilogue
Two months ago, the world of South Louisiana was turned upside down and inside out by Hurricane Ida. Today, blue roofs (roofs covered in blue tarps to protect houses from further damage) dot the New Orleans metropolitan area. My home has a metal roof and only a piece of flashing was moved aside by the winds. Houses with traditional roofing materials are in a world of disrepair. The City of New Orleans was spared by and large of major damage. The New Orleans Opera Association is handling damage to both their Scenic Studio and to the Opera Guild Home, a historic mansion that was donated to the company several decades ago. Louisiana to the south and west of New Orleans was not spared from horrific damage. Google it and it will break your heart.
My husband Stephen and I returned to our home on September 11 after being gone for 10 days. On the bright side, we were able to empty our refrigerator rather than return to something rather gross and unappetizing. Will insurance pay for those 10 days of evacuation? Good question. We have submitted it to the insurance adjuster. Still waiting.
Several New Orleans chorus members had damage to the roof of their homes. But New Orleans was fortunate – this time.
Remember how we emptied out our fridge? Turns out that there are two chefs who live in our neighborhood who emptied out their restaurant freezers. Seems that the stouthearted souls that stayed on via generator power ate like kings with premium steaks and lots of seafood.
Remember those howling winds? Turns out that those were sustained winds of over 100 miles per house for hours blowing horizontally.
After going through Katrina, I naively thought this would not happen again in my lifetime. Then to see Ida wreak devastating havoc in the Northeast. Crazy! Two months later, I am back to normal (whatever that means). Moral of this story: Don’t stay for a hurricane. Even with a generator, life is super hard in a sub-tropical climate without any power for days. No, I am not considering leaving my hometown. Just will never stay for a hurricane again!