In New Orleans, Anxiously Watching the Levees As Hurricane Ida Arrives

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The imaginable of “another Katrina” has haunted New Orleans, and the remainder of the nation.

The French Quarter successful  New Orleans during Hurricane Ida.
Credit...Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Aug. 29, 2021, 7:23 p.m. ET

NEW ORLEANS — As Hurricane Ida began violently tearing done South Louisiana connected Sunday, Kelli Chandler was holed up successful a windowless office, waiting and watching for the reply to a question that each of New Orleans was asking: Would the levees — the newer, stronger, much blase levees — clasp backmost the storm?

Ms. Chandler, an authoritative successful the nervus halfway of the sprawling $20 cardinal tempest defence strategy that was upgraded aft the misery of Hurricane Katrina, spent hours fielding emails, calls, and texts from a web of officials and agencies that were keeping their eyes connected the caller system.

The aboriginal signs, she said aboriginal Sunday evening, were good, but the last answers were acold from clear. Ida was not finished with New Orleans. So the waiting and worrying went on. “We’re expecting highest winds aboriginal connected tonight,” she said.

The nation’s astir flood-scarred metropolis buckled successful for a terrifying thrust Sunday, its radical gripped by an anxiousness that was whipping astir with the wind. Would Ida magnitude to a rerun of the epic catastrophe that nary 1 has forgotten — and, of each days, connected the 16th day of Katrina?


Credit...Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

For residents similar Erica Smith, the caller tempest protections offered small assurance. Ms. Smith, 38, had survived Katrina, but, she said, conscionable barely. She had nary volition of surviving done this tempest astatine her location successful suburban Metairie. So she had travel downtown, seeking the information of a large hotel. Sunday morning, however, she had to determination from 1 edifice to another. She cowered successful the curve of a downtown building, contemplating the harrowing nine-block walk. The upwind howled down Carondelet Street.

“It’s horrific,” she said. “This could beryllium different Katrina.”

The imaginable of that — “another Katrina” — has haunted New Orleans, and the remainder of the nation, since the nightmare flooding of 2005 and the botched authorities effect that followed. And Ida, which made landfall Sunday conscionable southbound of New Orleans, seemed similar a superior contender, with winds that reached 150 miles per hour, and a trajectory that appeared to beryllium headed conscionable westbound of New Orleans.

But each storms are different, and the extended concern successful a remade tempest extortion strategy offered hope. It could seem, connected Sunday, similar pessimism and optimism were warring it retired similar colliding upwind systems.

In the Algiers Point neighborhood, straight crossed the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, windows shook and histrion limbs were sent flailing. Steely grey skies were hardly disposable done the agelong of oak trees lining Opelousas Avenue. Some vicinity streets were strewn with leaves and breached branches.

Many residents evacuated the metropolis earlier the tempest made landfall, but immoderate stayed behind, determined to thrust retired the tempest successful their ain homes oregon those of friends oregon relatives.


Credit...Mark Felix/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Most houses were not boarded up, but residents appeared to person taken to bosom officials’ proposal to propulsion trash cans inside, leaving the streets uncommonly empty.

Further into the day, the Mississippi River was whipped into an ocean-like frenzy. Video footage circulated of a ferry that had breached escaped from its moorings. Ms. Chandler said a tug would beryllium dispatched to propulsion it to information arsenic soon arsenic the winds died down.

Prolonged powerfulness outages are expected to person the biggest interaction for those who stayed successful the city, with nutrient and medicine spoiling successful inoperable refrigerators and blistery upwind making regular beingness uncomfortable for everyone. Power occupation had already begun connected Sunday, arsenic the lights flickered and went retired successful Algiers, past the 7th Ward, past the 9th Ward.

The Sewerage and Water Board sent a announcement conscionable earlier noon that a fig of its stations passim the metropolis were losing power, which could origin sewers to backmost up successful homes if residents did not trim the magnitude of wastewater they nonstop into the strategy done showers, dishwashing and toilets flushing.

“These stations volition beryllium retired of work until the tempest passes,” the announcement read.

In different parts of the region, the storm’s effects were yet to get successful force, and officials braced for daybreak Monday, erstwhile they would statesman to larn the grade of a near-certain way of misery for a authorities that was battered by galore almighty storms past year.

It remained to beryllium seen if New Orleans would beryllium connected the database of the hardest hit. On Sunday, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana expressed optimism that the metropolis would grip the tempest connected CNN’s “State of the Union.” The caller tempest strategy surrounding New Orleans, with its 350 miles of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps, “will withstand the tempest surge,” helium said.

“There’s been tremendous concern successful this strategy since Hurricane Katrina, helium said. He added: “This volition beryllium the astir terrible trial of that system.”

There were hopes that Ida mightiness beryllium mild. One upwind forecaster suggested that the effect mightiness crook retired to beryllium much akin to Hurricane Zeta, a tempest that struck successful October, blowing done rapidly and ferociously, leaving the streets filled with fallen histrion branches and downed powerfulness lines — but leaving astir of the metropolis intact.


Credit...Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

But galore residents had a hard clip putting religion successful the predictions and the experts. Even if the levees held this time, they wondered if the city’s historically troubled pumping strategy would beryllium capable to churn h2o retired of the metropolis earlier floodwaters rose.

“I conscionable person a truly eerie feeling astir this one,” said Chris Dier, a section schoolteacher who evacuated his location successful the Arabi neighborhood. “I consciousness similar the levees should hold, but again, if they didn’t, I wouldn’t beryllium amazed due to the fact that we each thought they would clasp during Katrina but they didn’t.”

The large hotels astir the French Quarter, meanwhile, were experiencing a rarity: rooms and floors afloat of patrons with New Orleans accents.

Devin Sanville, 51, a cook astatine Antoine’s Restaurant, the celebrated Creole edifice successful the French Quarter, had moved with his household into a country successful the AC Hotel connected the 5th floor. He rode retired Katrina connected the 3rd level successful the St. Bernard lodging projects aft fleeing his house, which filled with astatine slightest six provender of water.

“I consciousness similar our infrastructure is amended than it was 15-16 years ago,” helium said. But helium emphasized that overmuch of the suffering came aft the storm, erstwhile truthful galore New Orleanians were near stranded without powerfulness oregon a means of escape.

“I deliberation we tin marque it,” helium said. “It’s conscionable astir people. Preserving lives and people.”

Angela Williams, 55, a New Orleans schoolhouse autobus operator had besides travel to the edifice for immoderate bid of mind. She said Katrina enactment 12 feet of h2o successful her Uptown New Orleans home.

On Sunday, the edifice lobby seemed similar the champion vantage from which to justice whether the metropolis was genuinely safer than it was successful 2005.

“We’re going to spot if it works,” she said of the upgraded flood extortion system. “Because the past hurricane, it didn’t enactment astatine each for us.”

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