The Future Crashing Into The River
I thought I saw a ghost of New Orleans, a sad apparition of a glorious city that once was. I will always remember the moment during the evening of August 29 as the city lights flickered then went out. Only my radio, powered by double-A batteries, was keeping us informed: A transmission tower that carried eight lines, each a source of power had fallen into the river. New Orleans, once known as the Queen City of the South, was now powerless in every sense of the word; neighboring Jefferson Parish could provide no help for it too faced the dark night.
Full disclosure: Until that moment I did not even know that there was such a tower carrying volts across the river and beyond. Though I have probably seen the tower hundreds of times it always blended into the landscape; yet without it the illuminated night had no landscape at all.
Imagining the impact of the incident was a frightening experience. The guys on the radio, more informed about the grid than I am, stayed calm yet they could offer no assurances that the city was not facing a major calamity. We are used to power going off during a storm but that usually lasts until a tree can be cleared. This was totally different, something we had never experienced. What if it would take three to six months to restore the power? Could businesses, already battered by COVID, survive? Would this city, hobbled by memories of Katrina, be a place that people would want to live and invest in? There will always be a New Orleans but will it be reduced to a smaller boutique town great for visiting except in late August?
Whenever an area is hit by a disaster it is often said that its people are resilient. That may be true but for many victims, already burdened by life’s other challenges, there may be only a few chips of resilience left. Then there is Grand Isle, which is a weather bullseye located on an island along the Gulf’s shore. For a paradise’s worth of beautiful sunsets, and easy access to tarpons, there are occasional deadly black clouds. Living there is a lifestyle choice, one for which it is good advice to always keep a suitcase packed.
If it is true that global warming will make hurricanes more frequent and powerful (or even if it is not true) we already know how destructive they can be. Right now, all of southern Louisiana is limping due to the storm that pummeled Lake Charles and vicinity last year and now Ida. This is no way for a state to survive. One bit of good news from the Ida experience was that the levee system, redesigned and redeveloped since Katrina, worked magnificently. We need to do the same with power transmission. Just as we are mastering break-proof levees couldn’t we apply American genius and technology for a fail- proof power system?
Interestingly, of all of America’s great cities New Orleans was not Ida’s worst victim. New York City, which got more of a direct hit and where the subways flooded, was hit hard as the hurricane moved up the New England coast. We feel the pain along the Atlantic shore, but hope that at least there will be more national interest in building a defense plan against tropical events as though we were going to war. If not now, we will feel the need one day as we again wait for the power to return.
Ghosts are part of the folklore in New Orleans but should never be a metaphor for the city itself. Our brand of resilience is not based just on toughness but because we are seduced by the town. We the citizens can be a true source of power.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.