In New Orleans, anxiously watching the sea walls as Hurricane Ida arrives

NEW ORLEANS – As Hurricane Ida began to sweep through southern Louisiana on Sunday, Kelli Chandler was locked in a windowless office, wa...


NEW ORLEANS – As Hurricane Ida began to sweep through southern Louisiana on Sunday, Kelli Chandler was locked in a windowless office, waiting and watching for the answer to a question the whole of New Orleans was asking: the levees – newer, stronger, more sophisticated dikes – hold back the storm?

Ms Chandler, an official at the heart of the sprawling $ 20 billion storm defense system that was upgraded after the misery of Hurricane Katrina, spent hours responding to emails, calls and SMS messages from a network of managers and agencies monitoring the new system.

The first signs, she said early Sunday night, were good, but the final answers were far from clear. Ida was not done with New Orleans. So the waiting and worry continued. “We expect peak winds later in the night,” she said.

The nation’s worst-hit city tied to a terrifying run on Sunday, with anxious residents swirling in the wind. Would Ida amount to a replay of the epic catastrophe no one has forgotten – and, everyday, on Katrina’s 16th birthday?

For residents like Erica Smith, the new storm coverage offered little insurance. Ms Smith, 38, had survived Katrina, but, she said, barely. She did not intend to experience this storm in her house on the outskirts of the Métairie. So she had come to town, seeking the safety of a large hotel. On Sunday morning, however, she had to move from hotel to hotel. She curled up in the curve of a downtown building, contemplating the heart-wrenching nine-block walk. The wind howled in the rue Carondelet.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “It could be another Katrina.”

The prospect of it – “another Katrina” – has haunted New Orleans and the rest of the nation since the nightmarish floods of 2005 and the sloppy government response that followed. And Ida, which made landfall just south of New Orleans on Sunday, appeared to be a strong contender, with winds reaching 150 miles per hour and a track that appeared to be heading just west of New Orleans. .

But all storms are different, and the sizable investment in a revamped storm protection system has offered hope. It might appear, on Sunday, that pessimism and optimism are fighting like colliding weather systems.

In the Algiers Point neighborhood, just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, windows shook and tree branches were knocked down. The steel gray sky was barely visible through the strip of oak trees bordering Avenue Opelousas. Some streets in the neighborhood were littered with leaves and broken branches.

Many residents evacuated the city before the storm reached land, but some remained behind, determined to weather the storm in their own homes or those of friends or relatives.

Most of the houses weren’t barricaded, but locals seemed to have taken to heart the authorities’ advice to pull the trash cans inside, leaving the streets unusually empty.

Later that day, the Mississippi River was whipped in an ocean-like frenzy. Video footage circulated of a ferry that had come loose from its moorings. Ms Chandler said a tug would be dispatched to bring her to safety as soon as the winds died down.

Prolonged power outages are expected to have the biggest impact on those left in the city, with food and medicine spoiling in unusable refrigerators and hot weather making everyday life uncomfortable for everyone. The electricity problems had already started on Sunday, as the lights flickered and went out in Algiers, then in the 7th, then in the 9th.

The Wastewater and Sewerage Authority sent out a notice just before noon saying a number of its stations across town were losing power, which could cause sewers to back up into homes if residents don’t. did not reduce the amount of wastewater they send into the system through showers, dishwashers and toilet flushes.

“These stations will be out of service until the storm passes,” the advisory reads.

In other parts of the region, the effects of the storm had not yet arrived in full force, and officials braced for dawn on Monday, when they would begin to understand the extent of a trail of misery. almost certain for a state that has been rocked by many powerful storms. Last year.

It remained to be seen whether New Orleans would make the hardest hit list. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on Sunday expressed optimism the city would handle the storm on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The new storm system surrounding New Orleans, with its 350 miles of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps, “will withstand the storm surge,” he said.

“There have been huge investments in this system since Hurricane Katrina,” he said. He added: “It will be the most severe test of this system.”

There were hopes that Ida might be gentle. A meteorologist suggested the result might look more like Hurricane Zeta, a storm that struck in October, traversing swiftly and fiercely, leaving the streets filled with fallen tree branches and fallen power lines – but leaving most of it behind. of the city intact.

But many locals found it difficult to trust the predictions and experts. Even if the levees held up this time around, they wondered if the city’s historically disrupted pumping system would be able to remove water from the city before the floodwaters rose.

“I just have a really weird feeling about this one,” said Chris Dier, a local teacher who evacuated his home in the Arabi neighborhood. “I feel like the levees should hold up, but again, if they didn’t I wouldn’t be surprised because we all thought they would hold up during Katrina but they didn’t. “

The large hotels in the French Quarter, meanwhile, knew a rarity: rooms and floors full of guests with New Orleans accents.

Devin Sanville, 51, chef at Antoine’s restaurant, the famous Creole restaurant in the French Quarter, had moved in with his family to a room at the AC hotel on the fifth floor. He led Katrina to the third floor of Cité Saint-Bernard after fleeing her house, which had filled with at least six water points.

“I feel like our infrastructure is better than it was 15 or 16 years ago,” he said. But he pointed out that much of the suffering came after the storm, when so many New Orleanians found themselves stranded with no electricity or a way to escape.

“I think we can do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of people. Preserve lives and people.

Angela Williams, 55, a school bus driver in New Orleans, also came to the hotel for peace of mind. She said Katrina put 12 feet of water in her Uptown New Orleans home.

On Sunday, the hotel lobby seemed like the best place to judge whether the city really was safer than it was in 2005.

“We’ll see if it works,” she said of the improved flood protection system. “Because the last hurricane, it didn’t work at all for us. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: In New Orleans, anxiously watching the sea walls as Hurricane Ida arrives
In New Orleans, anxiously watching the sea walls as Hurricane Ida arrives
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