Tropical Storm Isaac may be what New Orleanians need to scratch that seven-year itch. Perhaps our regard for Katrina has begun to wane. Seven years after her passionate visitation, our eyes manage to slip past her wrath, her strength and enormity, and her ability to change forever the people whose lives she touched.
Maybe the images of the gaping maw of toppled concrete I-walls, the water that seemed to flow forever, the tortured faces reaching toward rescuers - all those things that humbled us mercilessly and exposed all of our vulnerabilities - maybe those things would have faded a little more if we had made it through one more year without a healthy reminder.
No such luck. Tropical Storm Isaac seems to be racing directly for New Orleans with wild abandon.
I was washing my truck Sunday when a neighbor passed by and asked me where I was evacuating to. Not if, but where. She used to live in the condominiums that were right next to the 17th Street outfall canal, and she was nervous. I thought Isaac was headed toward Florida and the Republican National Convention.
I finished washing the truck and then cleaned the house. If the power is going to be out for any length of time, and I’m going to be trapped by floodwaters, I want to be trapped in a clean house. We’ve had heavy rains for the past three weekends, and my truck had taken on a musty, dog smell that I couldn’t stand anymore.
I headed out in a foul mood to buy provisions. Gas stations were already backed up with lines at every island. Sam’s, The Home Depot, Lowe’s and WalMart were jam packed with people buying provisions either to evacuate or hunker down for the storm. I stocked up on propane for my camp stove, insect repellant (many cases of West Nile virus reported recently) and more water. I’ve got enough water to last a few weeks. Proper planning prevents poor performance. I went to three places that were already sold out of D batteries, but I’ve got many candles and a couple already-loaded flashlights.
Gas station sold out Monday, August 27 "about noon," attendant said.
When I got home, I packed into the garage everything from the yard that could blow away, and elevated the lawnmower and power tools by 4 ft. I did the same thing for Katrina, and it made no difference. I felt tired, cranky and depressed all day.
A neighbor called to tell me that Gov. Bobby Jindal had declared a state of emergency and suggested that people leave low-lying parts of coastal parishes. I received a release from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development that toll collections on Louisiana Hwy. 1 in Leeville and the Crescent City Connection (the US 90 bridge over the Mississippi River in New Orleans) are suspended to “facilitate evacuation, emergency and protective services.” La.1 is the highway that leads to Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. All of the oil workers are pulling in from the Gulf of Mexico.
I went to bed at 11 p.m. and woke up at 2 a.m. Despite the fact that I plan to stay home and not evacuate, I still wanted to get things ready to go in case the storm stalls and picks up intensity, changes direction, or whatever.
That’s the problem with these things. When it’s time to leave, it’s too early to tell how bad it is and where it will make landfall. I’m a freelance writer, and I have a laptop and all the gear I need to be completely mobile. I can leave whenever I want. WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
It’s not even a Category 1 hurricane. I feel confident that the new risk reduction measures the Corps has put into place since Katrina mean New Orleans has better protection than ever. But a fast-moving storm with high winds means downed power lines. And I know my street will flood. It’s flooded at least three times in the past five weeks, once when the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board lost power at one of the pump stations.
Will Isaac pick up intensity as he moves over the loop, the warm, long stretch of Gulf water leading right to New Orleans’ front door? Only time will tell. Perhaps something will change, and I will load up the dog, my work and survival gear, and hit the road. A former neighbor who now lives in north Mississippi has invited me to come stay. I’ve talked to several friends and neighbors who feel as frustrated and stymied as I do. “Before Katrina, we’d be having a party for a Cat 1,” said one neighbor. Maybe that’s why Isaac is at our front stoop. We needed a reminder.
We all feel like we’ve got post-traumatic stress syndrome, that we are hyper-sensitive because of the timing and track of the storm, and the emotional triggers it evokes. Driving around, I see the enormity of the outfall canal walls towering above adjacent houses – some elevated since Katrina, some not.
The gates are still up at New Orleans’ three outfall canals. Gates will be closed tomorrow and Wednesday as surge levels reach the trigger mark at various structures.
I wonder at how freaked out those people must be, despite the $14.6 billion in improvement. Fear is not necessarily logical, but visceral. Fear is a good motivator to watch, prepare, and react quickly to threats.
Earlier today, I talked to Dave Calcaterra, Alberici’s project manager on the Seabrook Floodgate Complex. He said the complex was substantially complete June 30, but that Alberici received a contract modification from the Corps to be on call during the hurricane season to open and close the vertical lift and sector gates at Seabrook during the season as directed. “We have people on site now and are awaiting direction from USACE to close the gates,” he said.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority is in the process of closing gates throughout the Greater New Orleans area.The Corps and its contractors with work still underway have been closing all the construction gaps.
Boh Bros. Construction fabricated a 10-ft.-tall by 33.6-ft.-wide steel gate to close the gap against storm surge on the south shore of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Boh is working on a $43.1 million contract to elevate the Causeway from +13.5 ft. to +16.2 ft., widen the Causeway, and build a 15-ft. tall, reinforced steel and concrete floodwall beneath.
I’ve received numerous calls and e-mails today from people around the country asking how I’m doing? What’s my plan? Am I okay? I realize that, having been a part of our “recovery,” they are all emotionally wrapped up in what is now unfolding. Before we hung up the telephone, Dave Calcaterra said, “Hey, be safe, huh?” A kindness, concern, and acknowledgement that, despite all of the good work by all of the contractors on this big Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, being safe is still as much about choices as structures.