By Sunday last, we were all on edge but making the hard decisions. Because by Tuesday, we had to be where we were going to wait out Isaac. Isaac: the 2012 tropical storm, then hurricane that confounded all of the experts to its future path and strength and was unbelievably destined to make landfall 7 years to the day that Katrina came. So complicated and difficult Isaac proved to be to track that they were talking about retiring its name long before it hit land, which they only do when there should be one storm of that name to remember.
Later that day (Tuesday), when it seemed to make landfall in Plaquemines Parish with more ferocity than expected, bad news seemed sure to follow. In other words, someone in our watery region was definitely now going to have a big storm over them. The city has long feared a “direct hit”, or to be more explicit, a hurricane that came up the Mississippi River side of New Orleans. Lucky for us, the core strength of Isaac remained minimal and the track actually ended up slightly west of the city and the river. Unlucky for our region, this storm stayed put. Stalled more than once, dumping rain and punishing us with 60-80 mph wind for 48 hours. Imagine that formula.
“Shelter in place” is what the mayors call it when they don’t call for evacuation and want people to stay put and not expect that the city will open shelters. We mostly shelter in place for anything less than a Category 2 Hurricane. This one wasn’t even going to surely reach hurricane strength, so the cost and strain of evacuating 500 miles or more is unlikely for most of us city folks. And for those who grow our food, it is impossible to leave since their livelihoods not to mention animals would stay while they left…
For only a few of us, electricity stayed on throughout and allowed us to keep everyone that was literally in the dark up to date. Here is what I remember:
For the first 24 hours, all the news was wind and rain and worry. Like many storms (including Katrina) the bad news can often come after the eye has passed and inhabitants feels safe. Or, bad news can be much farther out from the center with the rain bands that come off the right upper quadrant of a storm which are often the most devastating. Hurricanes also come with storm surge from its days gathering speed on open water which is often the worst of the damage when it reaches areas like Lake Pontchartrain, which is actually an inlet of the gulf and not really even a lake, so you can see why the concern…..
So, by Thursday midday when the city was mostly over the worst of it, and impatiently waiting for the electricity lottery to be started up (oh, that is a WHOLE ‘nother story), the news came in that levees below the city were compromised (not the federally managed river ones, but interior levees) and when I heard Braithewaite, my blood ran cold. Citrus vendors that have been with the Crescent City Farmers Market since its beginning were possibly in trouble.
The video of boats with rescuers using axes to rescue people from their attic was so reminiscent of Katrina, I found myself sobbing, remembering 7 years ago to the day the arrival of Katrina. (Although the levee breaks of that terrible week were not known for a day or even two after the landfall of that storm, because authorities were not paying close attention to the water protection system!)
Slight difference-this time, it looks like those stranded were (mostly) being found in time, I firmly reminded myself. By the way, Google Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser to hear about what a real character and leader does during times of disaster…
That water rose to the tops of raised 2 story house down there and continued throughout the day, while gubernatorial talk of deliberately blowing holes in levees to reduce the pressure on flooded areas was seriously discussed and finally decided in favor. If you haven’t seen “Beast of the Southern Wild”, do so to see the artistic (albeit anarchistic in that case) explanation of this idea. Actually, see that film for one of the best examples of the environmental destruction that coastal people handle and still overcome to maintain and build community. Just see it please.
Then Friday we started to hear about the North Shore getting the rain and wind that they had been waiting for-those outer rain bands on the right hand side of a hurricane. Storm surge did as promised and pushed the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain into the small rivers and creeks north of the city. This area is where the majority of our farmers live and grow the food to bring to the city and its markets. I had been texting the founder and director of the New Orleans markets Richard McCarthy throughout, who shared news as he received it from his farmers and fishers. When the dam in Percy Quin State park in Mississippi (due north of many Louisiana farmers) was compromised, the folks along the Tangipahoa River were told to leave and leave quickly. Farmers dot the towns in that parish, although most had high ground. Nonetheless, crops were no doubt being flooded and we texted our concern back and forth. News remains limited at this point, as flood waters continue to rise actually as of this writing, Saturday evening.
He also shared with me the (expected) news that they would open the Saturday market with whatever vendors could make it. “Cheese and popsicles” is what he gallantly promised. Much more than that showed up, meat, milk, cheese, honey, beans, tomatoes, squash and apples….
A lovely welcome back to those who made it to Girod and Magazine, as for those who made it to the Red Stick Market in Baton Rouge and to the Covington Farmers Market on the aforementioned North Shore on that same market day. And for those who we have not yet been seen, the market community awaits your return.