“This,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards very soberly, “is an incredibly challenging time for our state.”
And even with our familiarity with storm prep, Hurricane Ida already upset every timetable we’re used to, simply because of its speed across the Gulf of Mexico, as if to meet us on Katrina Day.
That anniversary was always thought to represent the very most incredibly challenging time for our state, to embellish the governor’s phrase. That was a catastrophe that, with the failure of the federally built levees around New Orleans, claimed many lives and created about $100 billion in property damage.
Even in 2021, the ways in which late August 2005 played out still resonate. Pre-Katrina assessments of everything, from population counts in metropolitan New Orleans and the obvious changes we have seen since then, are landmarks — like new levee walls and floodgates — and asterisks that bore into our state’s history. Even the obscure ways in which hurricane insurance is funded were changed after such an immense financial cost from the storm.
Even as we deal with Ida, devastating much of metropolitan New Orleans and suburban Baton Rouge, Katrina is in a class by herself. We suspect that will always be the case but today’s incredible challenge comes after such a dramatic couple of years that the governor’s statement is almost a sigh for his two terms in office.
Before George Floyd, there was Alton Sterling and then the cruel assassination of three Baton Rouge police officers, and the wounding of three more. Flooding became a crisis, particularly in the capital city’s region but elsewhere in the state. Edwards was also left a financial crisis in state government to deal with.
That last may seem like a normal thing, but the repercussions of Edwards’ rebuilding effort since January 2016 will be significant. As we dig out from Ida, the public servants, in the broadest sense, who clear our streets and restore our electricity, are tired, too.
They suffered also in 2020, with its cruelties, a pandemic that upended our lives worldwide, and snuffed out so many who could have contributed more. As Ida approached, hospitals had to turn away all but the most urgent cases. Louisiana has never seen that in modern times.
The fierce presidential election of 2020 played out in that era but as Louisiana was safely in President Donald Trump’s corner the flashpoints and eddies in the currents of national politics mattered less than, once again, the hurricanes.
Last year was a record. The really hard hits were to fall on southwestern Louisiana, with Hurricane Laura such a tremendously damaging storm.
And now Ida.
There was much misery as we woke Monday morning and there is more misery ahead because of the catastrophic impact of Ida's winds on power transmission and sewage and water lines. For all the incredible challenges, our best efforts have to come now.
We pray that our national leadership — at the White House, officials promised succor from the storm — will be focused despite their challenges abroad.
The response to Katrina did not show the United States government at its best. For all the incredible challenges of today, may events redeem our faith in the support of our nation.