New Orleans residents relieved Hurricane Ida was 'not another Katrina'

Andrew J. Yawn
The American South
A truck drives through flooded streets in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida on Monday, August 30, 2021.

Buildings collapsed. Windows and roofs were yanked to the ground. Power remained out for all New Orleans residents Monday afternoon and one neighborhood awoke to a foot of water stagnant in the street.

But the day after Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans, one phrase was consistently repeated by residents across the city: It could have been worse.

Ida, the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana since modern record keeping began, ripped through south Louisiana Sunday devastating parts of coastal areas. Many New Orleanians were expecting similar devastation. The storm’s arrival on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina only added to some locals’ fears of what was to come.

James Ackerson, a Lower Ninth Ward resident, saw his house washed two blocks down the street after Katrina caused the levees to fail.

When it came to Ida, Ackerson said he was “concerned about nothing else but the water.” But while Ackerson had spent the days after Katrina living in his fishing boat and floating through a sunken community, he stood in his driveway Monday washing his car.

James Ackerson, a resident of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, shows a photo from after Hurricane Katrina when he had to navigate his community by boat. Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2021, 16 years to the day after Katrina.

The water had come up to his sidewalk due to the heavy rainfall, but quickly subsided. The $15 billion improvements made to the levees after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 seemed to have done the job, sparing the city from widespread catastrophic damage, experts and engineers said to USA Today Network.   

Ackerson's fishing boat sat parked and unneeded across the street. “This wasn’t nothing compared to Katrina,” he said. “I’ve got more confidence in the levees now than I have in the police. Now I know I can stay here.”

Though Ida's storm surge overtopped levees in low-lying areas such as Lafitte, 30 miles south of New Orleans, the majority of the hurricane protection system withstood the storm

At a press conference Monday, the city's mayor LaToya Cantrell echoed the concerns of residents like Ackerson.

"It did not happen. We did not have another Katrina. And that's something again we should all be grateful for," Cantrell said.

She went on to say the city has still been significantly impacted, in particular, the widespread power outage that is ongoing with little end in sight. And urged evacuees not to return to the city until further notice. 

Few places had standing water Monday

A biker pushes through the water in New Orleans' Lakeview neighborhood on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, after Hurricane Ida.

On Monday, New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood was one of the few places to still have standing water. 

Derek Cummiskey walked through his street, the water up to his calves. He said he was thankful that the water didn’t seem to reach anyone’s house, but said he was “frustrated” by the water in the street and lack of electricity, the latter of which was exacerbated when an Entergy transmission tower fell sending power lines into the Mississippi river. 

“Honestly our house was almost a fishing camp at one point,” Cummiskey said. “We just got a pool a few weeks ago and you couldn’t even see it.”

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New Orleans resident Derek Cummiskey walks through water in his Lakeview neighborhood after Hurricane Ida on Aug. 30, 2021.

Down the street, 44-year-old Ted Nass was clearing debris from gutters with a rake and attempting to coax the water to recede.

Nass also cited the power outages as his primary concern, but as a resident of a neighborhood separated from Lake Ponchartrain by levees, he was thankful that the flooding didn’t cause more issues.

“The power outage is crazy and will cause problems later on,” Nass said. “Everything else worked. This is rain water, not levees breaching, so I’m happy.”

Neighbors begin picking up the pieces

The historic Karnofsky Store on South Rampart Street in New Orleans, a second home to jazz musician Louis Armstrong, was destroyed by Hurricane Ida. Photographed on Monday, August 30, 2021.

Much of the biggest structural damage seen in New Orleans occurred in separate, distinct events.

The Karnofsky Tailor Shop where a young Louis Armstrong was once employed, was reduced to a pile of bricks on Rampart Street.

In the city’s Freret neighborhood, D’Artanian Stovall’s house stood in similar shambles. Stovall had moved into his former childhood home years ago in hopes of fixing it up. The fireplace had been next on his list of repairs.

But on Sunday evening as Ida edged closer to the city, a gust of wind ripped the chimney from the side of the house, causing the fireplace to collapse. The rest of the house followed suit and crumbled around Stovall, who scrambled to the back of the house and hid in a hallway until firefighters arrived.

Dartanian Stovall's house that collapsed with him inside during the height of Hurricane Ida in New Orleans.

Stovall escaped with a scratch on his arm and a sore ankle. He said he would spend the week pulling valuables from the debris and start rebuilding the house from scratch.

“Someone once asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you’re done?’ And I said ‘I don’t know, maybe tear it down and do it again,’” Stovall said with a rueful laugh. “That’s just life. New Orleans got lucky. I was unlucky. But you live to fight another day.”

Dartanian Stovall was inside this house he was renovating on Lasalle Street in the Uptown neighborhood when it collapsed.

Across town, neighborhoods hummed with chainsaws and generators as residents began the communal cleanup that follows each hurricane. Some set up portable charging stations on their porch.

In the Garden District, gas station owner Abbas al Sharees only meant to drop by his store for 5 minutes to make sure it was safe. He found a line of people looking for water and gas. Since his generators had already been running overnight, al Sharees spent the next several hours selling gas and cold beverages to the neighborhood.

“They’ve supported me, now is my time to pay them back,” al Sharees said. “It’s inconvenient with no electricity, but thank God because it could have been worse.”

People lined up to fill up gas cans after a Garden District gas station opened in New Orleans, La., on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, after Hurricane Ida passed through.