After Ida

Well, it’s been a weird couple months. Hurricane Ida came through right around two months ago, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a more recent event from the state of New Orleans and the surrounding areas (or for forgetting that it happened entirely, as the general chaos of the universe persists).

I know, I know– I could be heard assuring anyone who’d listen after the storm that it really wasn’t that bad in New Orleans; that we’d gotten off easy; that we’d dodged a bullet. And I guess when the bar for “bad” is Katrina, and when communities a mere hour from us were nearly wiped off the map, it was easy to feel that way at first. But… it’s been a weird couple months.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not over here wallowing in self-pity. The fact remains that I did get off easy– the few small holes in the roof of my apartment were tarped within days, while I was with my family in Virginia. This kept my leaking bedroom ceiling from getting any worse, and the ceiling itself was painted a few weeks later. I’ve received semi-compelling assurances that the quick tarping and dry spell following the storm should mean there’s no mold growing up there.

Power returned to my neighborhood a surprising 10 days after the storm (it had been predicted to be out for up to three weeks); there were rumors of the hero linemen who’d flocked to the area from all parts of the country inundating the dating apps. I stopped through Atlanta again on my way home, made an “all coming back to me now” joke on Instagram that people seemed to like, filled my trunk with groceries at an East Point Walmart (NOLA shops were rumored to be understandably understocked), and rolled back into town.

I’d bought a lottery ticket when my car hit 88,888 miles on my way to Atlanta but it was a bust; I found a $1000 FEMA deposit in my bank account the next day.

And in New Orleans, things seemed about as fine as they could be expected to be. It was quiet. You didn’t know what would be open or not. People’s evacuation (or not) experiences dominated every conversation; if you heard snippets of strangers’ chats as they passed they invariably were discussing the storm. I discovered more people had stuck around through the stifling, powerless days than I’d realized, usually thanks to a generator.

A few days after my return I tagged along on a clean-up/supply-drop trip (in addition to my ATL groceries I’d brought dry goods from VA, thanks to donations from a few friends and some of my FEMA money) to Pointe-Aux-Chenes and saw what real hurricane damage looked like.

But things were also worse than I’d realized in New Orleans. Two friends had to move because their apartments sustained too much damage– from the sounds of it, the rental market is especially nasty right now. Another friend had closed on a new house just a week before, only for the entire living room ceiling to cave in when the roof collapsed. A girl at open mic night sings about recently being put on antidepressants; that she sees death and destruction everywhere. And they didn’t get a lot of coverage, but there were deaths. Another friend is the one who found his 65-year-old neighbor, dead of heat exhaustion in her Bywater apartment, a few days after the storm.

Yeah. Intense. And incredibly sad.

You may have heard how the trash piled up. How the flies began to collect, and then linger. How streets smelled worse than you could even imagine as bags of trash, of refrigerator refuse, of waterlogged belongings, sat for weeks, and then another week. And then how it managed to smell even worse when the trash truck finally came, dripping putrid liquid in its wake. A few times while Uber driving I’d go along a street where there was someone outside every other house spraying down upended, recently emptied trash bins, identical looks of disgust on all their faces.

But the trash trucks don’t take everything, only what’s in their branded bins, so the black bags and debris– the couches, mattresses, and tree limbs– sit. A self-drop-off system was set up to resounding “Hell no!!!”s from residents. So the black bags and debris… sit. On neutral grounds and curbsides all over the city, a constant reminder that we’re all only going through the motions of being fine while actually living in some degree of squalor (which, in 2021, was already kind of the case I suppose). Some of the most prominent intersections in the city are still without power; it’s been two months of mayhem and incorrectly observed ad hoc four-way-stops on Poydras.

I was going to do a post around the one-month mark but let it get away from me; honestly, things are still about the same two months on. Thousands upon thousands of roofs are still tarped; I’m only just starting to see meaningful repairs done, usually on nicer properties in nicer areas of town. When taking pics, I found myself particularly drawn to all the damaged signs, especially of fast food places. Some beloved establishments have miraculously reopened (Saturn Bar!), while others have announced they’re permanently closing (Kebab!).

Pics are in chronological order, with location and date markers in file names.

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