Photos in this story from Scott Wilson
On road trips east of our home in Houston, we always pass through Louisiana, and often stay in New Orleans. Our trips are planned well ahead of time. Not true in early September 2021, when we hurried to Hammond, LA with emergency supplies for my brother and his neighbors (and his cats!) left stranded by Hurricane Ida. Hammond is north of New Orleans, close to the northern shore of lake Pontchartrain. It has certainly experienced hurricanes, but few this far north in recent memory compares to Ida.
As anyone living on the U. S. Gulf Coast knows, hurricanes can be shattering events. The winds, rains and storm surges can wipe out much of what we take for granted: power, water, gasoline, food, and internet.
In the wake of Ida, my brother was left only with cell phone communication. All the stores and gas stations were closed and there was not much hope of food or supplies for several days.
Houston was unaffected. My husband and I loaded up our RAV 4 with food and gasoline (more for power generators than cars) and drove the 330 miles to Hammond. We could not leave without gasoline cans, not only for my brother’s generator but for our return trip home. As best as we could learn from the internet, the closest open gas stations to Hammond were 160 miles away (so we needed enough gas for the 320 mile round trip from the last outpost to Hammond and back).
We were hardly the only Houstonians trying to help desperate friends and family. Our local auto shops and hardware stores were sold out of gas cans. Fortunately, Amazon could deliver us four 5-gallon cans within 24 hours. So, on the Friday before Labor Day, we filled our gas tank, filled our gas cans, and bought all the food (including cat food) that we could carry and set out. My brother had partnered with his next-door neighbors, and some of our supplies were for them.
Hot and humid in Hammond after Ida. My brother used his scant gasoline only to power his generator long enough to keep his food from spoiling. Running his air conditioner for cooling all day was out of the question.
For us, it was a bit of an adventure. The weather was fine. Not much traffic, but some roads were closed due to flooding, and bottlenecks resulted. As we neared where Ida had passed, broken trees were everywhere as well as shredded road signs. Some of the trees lost branches, some were snapped in pieces like twigs.
We stopped at every open gas station on the way to keep our tank full (and so we were able to leave more gas in Hammond). The major stops between Houston and Hammond are Beaumont, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge. No gas after Lake Charles, except for the few occasional stations with very long lines. We knew we could not depend on their having any gas left when we made our return trip. No open restaurants, and after Lafayette, no electric power other than private generators.
In Hammond, every business was closed. We passed through neighborhoods strewn with felled and damaged trees.( Trees and large branches had fallen on houses, cars, and power lines. Junction boxes had blown out due to the overloads. You could hear the drone of gas generators on its silent and empty streets. Police patrolled everywhere, utterly visible, and quite welcome. As far as we can discover, looting or break-ins at empty houses was not a problem. Instead, neighbors came together to help one another.
Rebuilding charming and historic Hammond may take some time. Our thoughts and hopeful wishes are with the people of Louisiana.