I am sheltering in place in New Orleans as Hurricane Ida bears down on the city—and battling a breakthrough case of COVID-19.
On Thursday, I sensed a tiny tickle in the back of my throat. Until then I had planned to leave the city ahead of Ida’s arrival and so had made absolutely zero preparations for the upcoming storm. Whoopsie.
When the doctor nonchalantly told me that my COVID-19 test had come back positive, I decided to quarantine myself at home to avoid exposing anyone else to the coronavirus. I realized that I had little water or nonperishable food on hand. That left me with just two days to prepare, and so I sent up the metaphorical bat signal.
How do you stock up for a hurricane when you have COVID-19? First, pray your friends have good taste in snacks. In true New Orleans fashion, my friends, family, and neighbors delivered food—including pistachios and homemade shepherd’s pie—water, and cat supplies. As they did their own hurricane shopping, they dropped off the items they had to spare. I’ve been overwhelmed, but not surprised, by the abundance of kindness. Hurricanes foster an unparalleled sense of community. I’ve also learned that sometimes when you ask for help, not everyone will say yes. And that’s okay too.
Ida, that blustery, ill-mannered guest, is due to arrive today—August 29—the same date that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana 16 years ago. I lived in Pennsylvania then; I remember my elementary school organizing a toy drive for displaced children in New Orleans. But there was one question the students asked that none of the adults could answer: “Why didn’t they just leave?”
That was a reasonable question for children to have asked. We didn’t know that many of those who evacuated during Katrina were stuck in standstill traffic for up to a day, in the sweltering heat, with children, pets, and panic. Others did not have the time, means, or reliable transportation with which to evacuate, or had weathered other storms without levee failure.
Everyone has their own reasons for staying during a storm. This time I’m not watching from far away—I’m one of the people sticking it out, and I’m hardly alone.
Once Ida was predicted to reach Category 4 strength, officials didn’t have time to organize safe contraflow out of the city for all 390,000 people in New Orleans.
“We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger,” said our mayor, LaToya Cantrell, in a Friday news conference.
Cantrell ordered mandatory evacuations for all those outside of the levee system and issued voluntary evacuation orders for those inside the levees. Officials also made clear to residents that they could expect lengthy power outages and oppressive heat if they chose to stay. Most who chose to leave evacuated Saturday, heading for Mississippi or Texas. Those who chose to stay spent the day foraging for last-minute supplies, checking in on neighbors, posting tips and requests in online forums, and drinking.
One woman on my neighborhood Facebook group submitted a frantic community plea. The storm had caught her unawares, and she needed baby formula. She received a slew of offers to deliver formula.
Those battening down spent hours calling their family and friends asking if they were okay, if they had enough food, if they had enough water, if they had an emergency plan. These calls were urgent but not panicked. Panic in New Orleans, after all, is something a hurricane has to earn. A friend of mine asked if I felt safe and told me she’d kayak over, if need be, once the storm abated.
Fortunately, I was vaccinated against COVID-19, so the worst of my symptoms have already let up. At the very least, I won’t have a fever when the air-conditioning goes out. Instead, as I watch the wind whip through the magnolia trees, I’ll be drinking a Corona.