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Hurricane Ida Impacts

Guest post by Sophie Miller – Serve Louisiana Member, 2021

Hurricane Ida hit the Louisiana coast on August 29th, 2021, one month ago to the day, as a Category 4 hurricane. There was considerable damage to Orleans Parish, predominantly caused by wind rather than flooding. Though there was still significant flooding, it was not as extreme as in previous storms like Hurricane Katrina. The previous levee rebuilding project also proved effective. Intense winds downed trees, wrecked roofs, and damaged transmission lines. All eight transmission lines feeding New Orleans fell into the Mississippi River, leading to a citywide power outage. With the heat and humidity typical of a New Orleans summer, the lack of power was especially dangerous, particularly for older residents. In fact, several people in assisted living and similar facilities died in the post-storm days. Surprisingly, Entergy’s controversial new $210 million gas-fired New Orleans East plant, touted by the company as a way to quickly alleviate electrical failure post-hurricanes, did not restore power as quickly as expected. The first lights in New Orleans turned on even later than they had after the storm that Entergy used as the example to win approval for the construction of the new plant. 

Areas south of New Orleans, particularly coastal and Indigenous communities, experienced widespread destruction. Southern Louisiana Tribes include: Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, Isle de Jean Charles Tribe of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, Bayou Lafourche Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw Indians, and United Houma Nation. Almost every member of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw had extensive property damage due to Ida. Likewise, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe have just 15 homes that remained livable post-Ida. The United Houma Nation measured over three quarters of its houses uninhabitable, and Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe saw over half of the homes of its full-time residents destroyed. In the coming years, sea level rise will likely flood the island; and already, 98% of its landmass in the past 70 years was lost due to erosion from oil and gas canals, and frequent storms. Because these Tribes are state-recognized, but not federally-recognized, they were unable to access disaster resources directly from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). This delayed critical aid in the form of food, water and shelter, requiring various non-profit organizations, like Global Citizen USA and Second Harvest, to step in to support the Tribes.

Without federal recognition, these Tribes are forced to rely on irregular funding and private donations – essentially they operate as nonprofits. Each individual must file federal damage claims, rather than acting as a unified group. The policies and practices of the United States created this untenable circumstance for the Tribes: first, they were forced deeper into the swamp as their northern land was claimed by settlers, and now as their homes are destroyed they cannot prove they are “Indian enough” to receive adequate funding to rebuild.

With a shallow continental shelf contributing to powerful storm surge and raising temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana coast is at high risk for intense hurricanes, and this risk is likely to increase unless dramatic steps are taken to address resilience for a changing climate. Hurricanes only need a sea surface temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but when Ida rolled through, the Gulf of Mexico was particularly warm at 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. There is conflicting data and no global trend to suggest an increase in hurricane frequency, but hurricane intensity is on the rise. Since ocean temperature dictates hurricane intensity, this global rise in hurricane intensity is attributed to climate change. Additionally, as our sea level rises, another phenomena attributed to climate change, storm surge risk increases too. All this to say: Louisiana will continue to face hurricanes that rapidly escalate, and southern Indigenous communities are particularly at risk, likely leading to more instances where it’s too late to order mandatory evacuations, and thus, we need to regularly adjust and deepen our coastal protection and restoration plans to keep our homes safe.

If you would like to contribute to the restoration process, please visit the Louisiana Coastal Tribe Coalition’s Hurricane Ida Relief Effort donation page.

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