With Hurricane Ida, New Orleans and Louisiana Seem to Have Learned Nothing in 16 Years

NOAA

Hurricane Ida will go down as one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in the United States. On the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was struck by this storm and left broken yet again.

Sixteen years ago, I was starting my senior year of high school (holy @#$%) and witnessed the destruction of New Orleans in statewide media, the national coverage, and from the accounts of those who evacuated to my high school. We had a handful of new classmates that year who came to us from the Catholic schools of New Orleans, and they had stories to tell.

But we all watched as New Orleans became what felt like a developing world country. The streets were flooded for what seemed like forever. The government proved ineffective to help them. There were people stranded on rooftops for days. The Superdome became a long-term shelter for those displaced.

Governor Kathleen Blanco blamed the federal government. The Bush administration blamed Blanco. The city of New Orleans blamed everyone else. It was a catastrophic failure at practically every level, and no one really seemed to get that there were lessons to be learned.

Katrina would ultimately prove to be Blanco’s downfall. Bobby Jindal came in and, to his credit, it appears he did fight to get the levee systems of New Orleans in working order, and some improvements were made. But the city itself had made very few changes to allow for the residents to be ready to move in the event of another disaster. Even after sixteen years, it appears the only thing that changed was the levee systems. Everything else failed again.

But the biggest failure of all seems to be a lack of an evacuation plan. New Orleans is confusing as hell to navigate into and through on the best of days.

Twenty years ago, there was a solution to this, and it was implemented by Jeb Bush.

There are numerous ways to enter and exit New Orleans, but given the geography of the state, evacuating the city is a hassle during a crisis. By having something like the contraflow system in place, the state would make it significantly easier to get people out in times of major weather events like Hurricane Ida.

Right now, the city is completely without power. Cell service is sporadic at best in and around New Orleans. Transmission towers fell into the Mississippi River. Many people are stuck where they are with no power and no phones. They are completely in the dark, and it’s not because they chose to stay. For the vast majority, many simply couldn’t leave.

What’s worse is that the city will be relying on not just the state but the federal government for assistance to get through. But three hours to its west is Lake Charles, which still has gotten none of the federal assistance it was promised by the government after Hurricane Laura. It, too, remains in tatters and struggling to recover a year later.

The federal government is being run by the Biden administration, who over the last two weeks has proven it is incapable of even formulating a plan, much less following through on it. Everything about the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a disaster and the leaks from the intelligence and military communities heavily imply every issue has been self-inflicted rather than as a result of the Taliban’s sudden rise to power.

I have no doubt that New Orleans will recover. It took some time after Katrina, but this time the levees appear to have held up and there is no major flooding in the city. That is an improvement, but the inability of the government at any level — local, state, or federal — to have done anything to mitigate the damage or to speed up the recovery is still proof that we have a long way to go in protecting our citizens from these threats in the future.