Storm Leaves Many Questions Unanswered
It was a week filled with a rain event which caused flooding and the looming possibility of a category 1 hurricane. Wednesday’s flooding crippled the city and news of Tropical Storm Barry’s projected path to New Orleans, set to hit late Friday/early Saturday, caused many citizens to relive the trauma associated with Hurricane Katrina. Miraculously, for New Orleans Barry proved to be more of a test in disaster preparedness than an actual disaster. But days after some have returned to the city, businesses have re-opened and the city is back to normal, there are varying opinions on what happened in the span of these several days and many are left questioning the city’s leadership and the adequacy of Sewerage and Water Board and the pumping systems that are designed to protect us.
A New Day: Leadership Working Together
Is the city and its leadership ready for a major storm? Is the infrastructure adequate and are the city’s residents and businesses confident that the directives they are given will keep them out of harm’s way. Mayor LaToya Cantrell held several press conferences in the days during the rain event where several agency and department leaders briefed the city about their preparedness for the storm. One of the city leaders who was in the room and spoke at the press conferences was Councilman from District B, Jay Banks, who is the City’s Council’s member on the Sewerage and Water Board. In words that sounded part preacher and part politician, it could be argued that he was a voice of calm and reason to the citizens in what he called a team effort by all the city’s leaders and agencies. “We had a comprehensive plan in place and the administration, the council and all parties worked together to one end. Additionally, the citizens played their part. This was an example of what can happen when all people work together,” says Banks of what he feels was a joint effort that was a success on many levels for the City of New Orleans.
James Johnson is a homeowner in the Hollygrove Neighborhood. He recalls on Wednesday being awakened at 4:00 a.m. by lightening before the rain event began, eventually dropping over eight inches of rain in a three hour period and overwhelming the pumping system and leaving his and many streets flooded. He tread through water with his next door neighbor Clarence Smith, to help some of the residents and look at the damage in the neighborhood that flooded out may cars along the road. This unexpected chain of events on this day, plus reporting that Barry, a tropical storm had been upgraded to a category 1 hurricane headed towards Louisiana, caused many who lived through Katrina to become anxious, trying to figure out what to do.
Johnson, at first thought he would stay in the city and “hunker down,” but because he did not feel confident about the city’s plan and infrastructure decided he would evacuate with his family to Beaumont, TX to wait out the storm. “I am relieved we did not have to experience a storm on the scale of Katrina, that caused so many problems for the city and left so many people still affected by it today,” says Johnson. “I can remember returning to the city after Katrina and when it began to rain hard, I would find myself feeling anxious, afraid and uncertain. Today I don’t feel like this, but this week I saw people reliving this trauma including my neighbor Clarence.”
It is the day after the storm and Clarence Smith, who lives in the home his family has owned since 1910, sits out on his stoop recounting what he felt over the last few days during the weather event. “James is right when he says I felt anxious. This house was flooded out and we had to rebuild and do so much after Katrina to rebuild,” says Johnson. “So much of my life and memories are back here and to think something like this or the possibility of it is something that makes me nervous to this day.” Smith who has the means to leave decided to not evacuate. “I could go somewhere else whether it is to evacuate or live, but New Orleans is my home. It seems this administration under Mayor Cantrell is doing a better job working together across agencies and with leaders at the state level to ensure we get the information we need, but as far as problems with our drainage systems and the pumps it is something that the city must invest in to improve and make more efficient.”
A City Underwater: Affecting the Bottom Line
While the city was at a standstill many business were affected, especially small businesses. Wilbert “Chill” Wilson, who owns two businesses along the busy thoroughfare on S. Carrollton Avenue is no stranger to having a business submerged in water. During Hurricane Katrina, his shop had nine feet of water in it, but as opposed to giving up, he took a generator, tent and clippers and created a makeshift shop at an abandoned Shell Gas Station – eventually recovering and now being a symbol of the spirit of rebuilding a city working together. “For us who have small businesses, these few days of being closed affect us and sometimes we cannot make this money back. I am wondering in situations like this where the Emergency Declaration is in place, what programs are in place for businesses that have lost revenue. Is it The City, FEMA, SBA, etc, that can help us? While not true for me, for some businesses, being closed for a few days may be the difference in them closing their doors or staying open.”
We Are One: Hope for the Future
The City of New Orleans was fortunate this time, but this year’s hurricane season is not over and it is noteworthy that everyone from the elected leadership, agencies, and citizens worked together during this weather emergency. Councilmember Jay Banks, echoes these words when speaking of the leadership and harkening back to Katrina, where the water affected all and it took all working together to rebuild. Today he strikes an optimistic note pertaining to the present leadership and citizens of New Orleans. “When it comes to us as leaders, citizens don’t care whose responsibility it is, but just want to get the job done. When I look back to Katrina, it didn’t matter what part of town you were from. There was no separation between us when the storm hit and the levees broke. Today we are rebuilding a new city, with new leadership moving in a new direction. Yes we still have our problems, but I believe we are better today than we were yesterday. We have many different types of people in New Orleans, but we are one, we can’t separate ourselves from each other and we all have a role to play. The best of that was on display during Hurricane Barry.”