On Saturday, August 28th, my girlfriend and I woke up at 5 AM, crowded as much food as we could into a cooler, locked and relocked our windows, stowed our handwritten letters from friends and family next to half a week’s worth of clothes in our duffels, and began our drive from our neighborhood Gentilly, in northeastern New Orleans, to Knoxville, Tennessee. We thought about, in no particular order, flash floods, winds over 100 mph, lines of cars curling around multiple street corners for gas, our neighbors who’d chosen to stay behind, when we’d come back, and traffic.
We were one of thousands of families leaving. Even at this hour, we encountered congestion as we drove North. Throughout the day, these conditions only worsened: there were significant delays on all of the highways leading out of New Orleans
, and there were even reports of gas stations running dry
Drivers experienced these delays even though New Orleans only ordered mandatory evacuation orders for those outside of the levee system: those inside the city itself were given voluntary evacuation orders instead. While at first this decision seems puzzling given the magnitude of Ida, mandatory evacuations must be issued 72 hours in advance. Ida intensified too rapidly for officials to guarantee everyone could be evacuated safely before the storm hit
. As New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell clarified, “We are not calling for a mandatory evacuation because time is simply not on our side. We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger.”
Less than 24 hours later, what Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called “one of the strongest hurricanes to hit in modern times
” made landfall. All of New Orleans lost power. Over one million Louisiana residents
waited weeks to gain back electricity during life threatening heat waves. While New Orleans’ levees held, there were fatalities in communities outside of the levee system, and as the storm moved Northeast it claimed more lives.