Has New Orleans Deserted Its Locals? One Woman Says, Maybe.

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This time two weeks ago, I was at my wit’s end. This time two weeks ago, I felt abandoned, miserable and angry. This time two weeks ago, I was on my seventh day without power in New Orleans, thanks to the gift that kept on giving, otherwise known as Hurricane Isaac.

My parents and I weren’t supposed to remain in the city, but as luck (and the lackadaisical attitude that can either make us New Orleanians seem incredibly endearing or incredibly infuriating) would have it, we opted to stay. During Hurricane Katrina, parts of our 7th Ward neighborhood was one of the few that didn’t flood and since the weather forecasters only billed Isaac as a Category 1 storm, we figured the odds were in our favor.

Growing up in New Orleans, hurricane season was simply a part of life, much like people in New York expect snow every winter. The storms were tangible enough to know how they formed and traveled, yet abstract enough to not fear. Of course everything changed in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on my childhood memories, destroying the places that shaped me into who I am today, such as the elementary school in the Lower 9th Ward where I met one of my best friends over 20 years ago, and the eastern New Orleans mall where we would shop for clothes (and boys!) as teens. Katrina devastated the city in a way that no one could have predicted, making it the most destructive storm to hit New Orleans in my lifetime. The irony was not lost that Isaac was due for a visit on the seventh anniversary of the storm.

On August 28 around 6 p.m., the first hints of what lay ahead materialized when the power in the house I share with my family went out. Just as I was about to light a candle, our lights came back on, giving us the false impression that we had somehow dodged the proverbial bullet. Then around 10:30 p.m., our neighborhood went dark for good. With a flashlight, candles, a transistor radio and a smartphone that somehow managed to keep a good internet connection, I felt decidedly prepared and relaxed. Besides, there was a certain romanticism involved with doing everything by candlelight.

The violent winds that thrashed the trees outside my door provided a breeze so soothing that I was fast asleep in no time. I woke up the next morning expecting to find tons of debris from the surrounding trees in my yard, but aside from scattered leaves and a detached piece of siding torn from the front of our house, I didn’t find much property damage. Still, a quick jog in the rain to the corner revealed that the dilapidated house recently purchased by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, which she revealed on her show, had collapsed into the street. Thankfully, no injuries were reported, but I’m sure the owners of the two cars trapped beneath the rubble didn’t feel so lucky. When neighborhood residents parked alongside the house because it was on higher ground, as they had likely done many times before, I doubt they thought it’d be the house itself, and not rising flood waters, that would destroy their vehicles.

Busying myself with journaling and catching up on my reading, I hunkered down, preparing to face being without power for at least another two days. If someone had told me that those two days would turn into one week, I wouldn’t have believed him. One of the messages that kept being repeated by everyone ranging from Mayor Mitch Landrieu to Charles Rice, president and CEO of the city’s lone power company Entergy New Orleans, since the city had gone dark was how prepared the city of New Orleans was and that power would be restored as soon as Isaac passed. So we waited.

  • Cyn

    Great piece. This is necessary, especially for folks who don’t live in
    N.O. who are always wondering, “Why’d they stay?” or assuming that
    everything was just “business as usual,” as you say, after the storm.
    They have no idea and need an account.