Post-Hurricane Musings

So, I’ve officially moved to New Orleans, and (in less than a week’s time) I have experienced my first hurricane.  If you talk to the locals, this one was “only” a Category 1, but it was pretty bad.  More rain than Katrina, the flooding back then was more due to the levee system failing.  This time, a whole town in Mississippi had to be evacuated for fear that a nearby dam would give way due to all the rain.  Lake Pontchartrain (here in Louisiana) overflowed.  How does a lake overflow??  Some folks are calling Hurricane Isaac “Katrina’s Husband.”  Let me just say, I’ll take Isaac any day — I just don’t want his wife to come a-calling.

I can’t imagine experiencing something 4 categories stronger than Isaac, but the actual hurricane itself wasn’t that scary.  The wind howled, which we expected.  The power went out, and there were feet of rain (that’s right, feet — not inches).  Even with all of the wind and rain, it was stiflingly hot.  We watched the wind pull away the awning from all of the covered parking for my co-worker’s Metairie condo building.  Torn to shreds.

Even still, the hurricane didn’t last as long as I thought it would.  Maybe that’s the misnomer of learning about weather systems by watching the news.  All I knew of hurricanes had been learned by watching Katrina and her aftermath.  Isaac sat over us in New Orleans for a full day, but we felt the winds long before he arrived.  It was like he announced his visit.

Longer than the hurricane itself was the power outage.  We were without power for 4 days, but many of my neighbors are still without power (now going on 6 days).  Some folks lost power before the hurricane even officially arrived.  Huge complaints about the main energy utility here in New Orleans — Entergy.  Once the hurricane was over, they dispatched some 10,000 workers to restore power to over 170,000 homes.  By the next day, less than 10,000 homes had restored power (I believe it was actually less than 5,000, but my facts are based on what we could glean from radio reports and Entergy’s tweets).

The president of Jefferson Parish took the strong stance of complaint against Entergy, making blunt accusations that Entergy just wasn’t getting the job done.   We were all driving around, taking photos and notifying Entergy of downed power lines — some of which were still live.  We were doing our part.  But we were seeing crews of 6 or more trucks, just parked and waiting.  Either they were waiting because they hadn’t been given orders, or they were waiting because they just didn’t feel like getting to the job at hand.  By the third day without power, Entergy had raised the amount of workers to 16,000.

When the amount of workers was increased, the biggest question in my mind was why they didn’t start with 16,000?  If each of them is going to have to work to restore power to over 10,000 homes, why not start there?  Why start at 10,000 and make promises of restored power, only to have to come back and say that people would have several more days to wait in the heat?  Mind you, each day without power, the weather grew hotter and more humid.  And many of us had not heard whether our water was safe or contaminated.

One thing I learned (that I hadn’t even considered before) is that everyone fills their tubs with water before a hurricane comes.  The water is used to flush the toilets if the water stops, can be boiled and is safer to use if the water in the pipes does get contaminated, etc.  In our venture to stay cool, we would drive around with the a/c, practically refugees in the local Whole Foods (one of the only grocery stores with power, where we could buy coffee and a warm meal).  While we waited for news about our power and the water, we went without showers.  We finally heard that the water was safe late into our third day, and we were forced to take freezing cold showers because the water heater was electric.  Mind you, the cold showers felt wonderful since it was so hot out, but the extremes from hot to cold were a big shock to the system.  Imagine taking a freezing cold shower and then stepping out of the water into 90 degree heat with 98% humidity, immediately breaking a sweat all over again.  Needless to say, I now have a cold.

If you ever find yourself caught in a hurricane situation, some essentials you might need (that I did not have on hand since my belongings hadn’t even made it to town yet) include:

  • batteries
  • unscented candles and holders
  • matches
  • battery-operated phone charger (apparently they’re cheap at Radio Shack)
  • a sturdy ice chest with wheels and a drainage spout
  • ice
  • bread
  • peanut butter
  • jelly
  • fruit
  • crackers
  • tons of water
  • multiple flashlights
  • fans (old school, accordion looking fans that you have to operate yourself… yes, i know it seems like expelling energy to cool yourself would only make you warmer, but it’s actually quite nice)
  • plenty of reading material and/or a craft project
  • wine (worked wonders for us)
  • a sleep aid (for when the wind starts really howling, it can be tough to sleep when you can feel the house shaking and hear things banging around outside)
  • a generator to keep your refrigerator running (only if you live in a place where the generator can be kept outside in a well-ventilated area… you can’t have one in an apartment or garage — think carbon monoxide poison and fire hazards).
  • shorts
  • mosquito repellent
  • camping chairs (sometimes it’s more comfortable to sit outside hours before or after the hurricane — at least you can feel a breeze, and they’ll continue to be handy to sit outside if there’s a prolonged power outage)
  • extra phone or laptop batteries
  • DVDs if you have a portable system (you will get a little stir crazy)

Some things you may need to do before a hurricane comes:

  • empty your freezer (everything will melt and make its way to your floor… it’s gross, it smells, and it will suck for anyone living below you)
  • fill your tub(s) with water
  • close your blinds/drapes
  • pay close attention to the news, as a late evacuation is possible
  • fill up your gas tank, since you could still have to leave town
  • put some money aside if/when you can for this purpose (hotels are pricey and they’ll charge a big premium for pets, you’ll probably want to buy food/ice and supplies whenever one is coming, and who knows what will happen during the storm)
  • water your plants
  • move planters and other items from outside and bring them in/put them in the garage (they will break/blow away)
  • have a bag packed in case you need to leave, make sure you know where your important documents are

There’s literally no way I would have thought to do/buy most of these things — this is all hindsight.  Even now, knowing that we’re in “hurricane season,” I’m not mentally ready to prepare for another one if it’s coming our way.  The scariest part is that I checked the NHC’s website (National Hurricane Center), and there are already three other tropical storm systems being monitored.  Doesn’t mean they’re coming anywhere near here, but it’s stressful just to think that we could have another one so soon.  I’m not ready, Isaac took what little money I had left after the movers took the rest, and half of my neighbors still don’t have power as it is.

I literally started work last Monday, and three hours later we were rushing out to get supplies and get situated.  Flooding and outages have been so bad that they closed my office until after Labor Day (thankful for paid leave).  Downed trees and debris are still everywhere.

Certainly glad to say I’m a survivor of a hurricane, but I’m hopeful that the rest of this season is pretty quiet.

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