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One Year Later: Life After Ida in Louisiana & Mississippi

16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina made devastating history in Louisiana, Hurricane Ida made landfall some 40 miles away. Fortunately, the levees held this time - but, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), the significant rainfall and storm surge caused $78.7 billion in damages that residents are still recovering from today. Recent reports show that Ida has tied with Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Lake Charles in 2020, and the 1856 Hurricane to be the strongest storm to hit Louisiana in recorded history.

On August 29, 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm after having crossed over Cuba as a Category 1 just a few days earlier. Landfall often causes a hurricane to decay quickly, but Ida raged on over the flat, swampy lands of Louisiana. The storm entered Mississippi by Monday morning, August 30th, by which point it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The impact that this weather event had on these two states was immeasurable—now, one year later, we are taking a look at how the communities have fared in the aftermath.

Side Effects of Hurricane Ida

Did you know? Hurricane Ida temporarily reversed the flow of the Mississippi River. Around midday on Sunday, August 29th, the amount of water that the storm brought in was powerful enough to change the river’s course for a few hours. While this is not unheard of, it’s rare; only Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012 had this effect before Ida.

Tornadoes were another side effect of the storm. Two tornadoes ripped through Louisiana, while Mississippi suffered from 13 total twisters. This “tornado outbreak” traversed the course of the hurricane, with reports throughout the Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeastern United States.

Louisiana’s agriculture industry suffered significantly from Hurricane Ida, which caused nearly $600 million in damage according to LSU’s AgCenter. Approximately half of this was due to timber damage, with another 35% attributed to infrastructure loss. Timber is the top agricultural commodity in Louisiana, and trees felled by hurricanes are notoriously difficult to salvage. A quarter of Louisiana’s sugarcane crop had lower yields thanks to storm damage; fortunately, 58% of the sugarcane crop was deemed “good” in USDA’s September 7th Crop Progress and Conditions report, as Louisiana is responsible for just under 50% of the nation’s sugarcane production by value.

Imports and exports were also impacted. In preparation for the storm, the U.S. Coast Guard ceased freight movement on the Mississippi River on August 28th, affecting over 60% of U.S. grain exports. On top of the closure, damaged infrastructure also played a role in slowing traffic.

Widespread Power Outages in New Orleans

The city of New Orleans, which was famously devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had done what it could to mitigate further damage from future storms. One of the steps taken was by Entergy, the power company serving the city: they argued that a new natural gas power plant could help alleviate the worries that the transmission system, which normally supplied the city with power, wouldn’t hold up. Despite residents’ objections to the project, the plant began operation in 2020. And, despite Entergy’s promises that the new power plant would save the day come another storm, Ida knocked out all 8 transmission lines into the city, and the natural gas power plant was nowhere to be found. Much of New Orleans was left without power for at least a month.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Caused By Generator Use

In the months after Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana and Mississippi, millions of people were left without power, which had an unforeseen and dangerous side effect. Many homeowners and business owners relied on generators to get the lights–and air conditioning!–back on.

One River Ridge resident recalled that, even though his standby generator was installed properly and further away from the house than code demanded, he and his family were exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide during the storm: “...The generator is 20 inches from the side of the house and by code you’re supposed to be 18 so I exceed that and I don’t remember the exact measurements but I think it’s 5 feet from the soffit, I exceed that. It’s 5 feet from the windows, I exceed that, I got enough room from the property line, I’ve got enough room from the vent.”

The weather is suspected to be the root cause of the issue. Although the standby generator was properly installed according to the manufacturer’s manual and safety codes, the unique conditions presented by Hurricane Ida increased the danger of the generator’s proximity to the house.

Jefferson Parish responded to these concerns by conducting studies on generators, standby generators, and their placement around homes. Councilman Scott Walker expects these studies to impact future standby generator installation guidelines. “It could be a potential outcome that generators are placed further away from homes,” Walker said.

Infrastructure Bill of 2021

Although New Orleans and its infrastructure were relatively prepared for the Category 4 storm, the rest of Louisiana didn’t fare as well. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power or clean water; many were left with boiling water notices for weeks. The storm pushed the state’s aging water supply systems and wastewater plants to the limit, bringing to mind the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was working its way through the Senate and the House at the time Ida hit. The bill proposed $550 billion in new spending over the next 5years, which included $55 billion to upgrade water and wastewater systems as well as $46 billion to help protect against floods, wildfires, and drought.

The damage caused by Hurricane Ida became a selling point for the bill, which eventually passed in November 2021. Approximately $7 billion of the bill’s spending was allocated to Louisiana.

Who Was Impacted By Hurricane Ida?

107 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Ida: 87 in the United States and 20 in Venezuela. 55 of those U.S. deaths could be directly attributed to the storm. 30 of those deaths were in Louisiana.

To this day, approximately 3,800 people are awaiting housing through FEMA’s housing program, while another 4,600 households still rely on Louisiana’s sheltering system after the storm.

Several of those households are from low-lying Houma, Louisiana, which took a direct hit from Ida. Many of its 30,000 residents are either depending on the state’s public housing assistance or have had to abandon their hometown altogether. “Houma is like a ghost town,” one resident said to NBC News.

Small communities like Houma are among the most vulnerable when storms like Hurricane Ida roll through. The town’s historic downtown area is still in shambles, and nearly every single public housing unit in the town–of which there were 517–was condemned by the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority. Meanwhile, homeowners are left to battle their insurance companies for sufficient coverage. Some insurance companies have either refused to cover damages caused by Ida or have pulled out of Louisiana altogether.

In Mississippi, the storm hit the small towns of Brookhaven and McComb the hardest. Major roads were closed and extensive power outages were reported throughout the state, some lasting for weeks on end. Nearly six months had passed before storm debris had been completely cleaned up in McComb.

Recovering From & Preparing For Hurricanes

Based on the 72-year period from 1950 to 2021, the most active month for hurricanes in the Atlantic is September, although the season officially extends from the beginning of June until the end of November. 2022 is expected to be a very active season, leaving residents of Louisiana and Mississippi alike bracing for impact. Even the effects of Hurricane Katrina are still being felt throughout the area 17 years later; Hurricane Ida’s impact will undoubtedly also continue for years to come.

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