Hurricane Ida Shows the Climate Dystopia Ahead for All of UsRoundup
tags: climate change, New Orleans, hurricanes, Disaster, Hurricane Ida
As a boy, Louis Armstrong worked for the Karnofsky family. The Karnofskys’ tailor shop on South Rampart Street in New Orleans became a second home to him, and the family helped him buy his first cornet. On Sunday night, the Karnofsky building, long neglected by the city and a succession of private owners who promised to restore it, finally collapsed under the force of Hurricane Ida’s winds.
I live in New Orleans, but I saw the news on my phone, as I scrolled from the safety of a rented apartment in Birmingham, Ala. My family and I arrived on Friday. We are among the Louisianans who could afford to evacuate. We got here by driving I-59 to I-20, which is to say, we relied on the comparatively well-funded public infrastructure of interstate highways to get out of harm’s way.
Our less wealthy neighbors rely on streetcars and buses to get around, modes of public transportation that burn less gas and therefore contribute less to the rising seas and stronger storms that imperil us all. But there is limited regional bus or train service around New Orleans, and they largely were left to experience Hurricane Ida, one of the strongest to make landfall in Louisiana’s history, firsthand.
The reports I got from those who stayed, by necessity or obligation, were mixed. My wife’s cousin, a surgeon at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said that for the first time in recent memory, the emergency room was quiet. A doctor friend in Thibodaux, 60 miles southwest of the city, texted to say that a floor of his hospital had lost power and staff were having to manually pump air into the lungs of intubated Covid patients as they moved them to a floor with a working generator. When he got a break, he texted again to say, “I mean this is traumatizing.”
The big story, for New Orleans, is that the levees held. This was a huge relief, a vindication of the work the Army corps did to build what it calls a “risk reduction system” for the city and its suburbs after Hurricane Katrina. Still, the system is less ambitious than the one Louisianans lobbied for after Katrina, and the protection it offers grows weaker every day, as the wetlands that buffer the city from the Gulf of Mexico get wetter.
It could not save the Karnofsky building from the wind, it did not prevent the failure of the New Orleans’s sewer system, and it did not stop the region’s electrical transmission towers from toppling, leaving the hundreds of thousands of people who remain in the region without power for the foreseeable future. But it kept the Gulf of Mexico out of the city, which was its job.
The situation in Thibodaux, LaPlace and other towns east of the city is much worse. In this region along the Mississippi River — variously called the petrochemical corridor or Cancer Alley — people live with the constant threat of flooding, toxic emissions and other costs of our technological achievement.
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