At about 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, just two days after Hurricane Ida pummeled New Orleans, plunging the city into a total blackout, more than 100 cars sat idling in a cue on North Rampart Street. The line stretched for 11 blocks, ending at a Chevron gas station at St. Louis Street just outside the French Quarter.
Kamisha Carter, 40, and her mother Rita Wilder, 62, sat at the end of the line, their frustration boiling over. The day before, they said they waited nearly four hours at a gas station in St. Bernard Parish, only to be told the pumps had been shut off.
None of it made sense, Carter said. Why had gas suddenly become a rare commodity? Why couldn’t they find ice anywhere? Why were all the grocery stores closed?
“Everybody is saying that hope left,” Carter said.
Carter and Wilder live in a house in the Lower 9th Ward with five children and grandchildren. Last night was the first they spent without power. Once the sun set and the streets plunged into darkness, they took shelter inside. It was a terrifying experience, Carter said.
“You don’t know if people are going to break into your house,” she said. “We just don’t feel safe. Who are you supposed to call for help if you need it?”
“It was horrible,” Wilder said. “On a scale from 1 to 10, it was a 40.”
Carter said if they are successful in getting gas, they are going to drive north until they find a hotel room.
“I love our city, but I don’t think they care about us,” said Carter. “It’s a sad feeling.”
Further up the line just a block from the gas station, 50-year-old Keoka Gonzalez thought of her 19-year-old son who recently tested positive for meningitis. He had just been released from the hospital days before the storm.
Gonzalez needs gas so her son can periodically sit in the car and stay cool. The situation has been beyond stressful, she said.
“I’m praying and just pray and pray and pray and asking God to give me strength every day,” Gonzalez said.
Many in New Orleans, including officials, and meteorologists watching Hurricane Ida were shocked at how quickly the hurricane intensified. It went from a strong Category 2 storm to nearing Category 5 strength in a matter of hours, putting the state on edge.
While more rural parishes with low-lying areas made evacuations mandatory, New Orleans officials said they weren’t going to follow because there wasn’t enough time. As a result, 200,000 people stayed behind.
Power is out for most of the city at the same time the region is under a heat advisory. Officials are telling citizens to conserve water. Even if they could afford to evacuate now, gas and places to stay aren’t available for miles.
Now, residents are doing anything they can to get by.
Near the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and North Galvez Street 72-year-old Tilman Hawkins pushed a shopping cart packed with bottles, cans, batteries and a vacuum cleaner. The plan was to take it to a nearby scrapyard to sell. He estimated he could make about $20, but the scrapyard hasn’t reopened, and now he doesn’t know what he will do for food.
“I could have sold this stuff,” Hawkins said. “I could have gone to Popeye’s or Wendy’s. I could have bought me a bag of ice.”
Hawkins said he puts in about eight hours a day, walking the city collecting aluminum cans. But with nowhere to sell his haul, he is at a loss and doesn’t know how he will survive.
“All my food is gone,” he said. “I’m broke. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Down in the Lower 9th Ward on Tennessee Street just off North Claiborne Avenue, Michael Kleinpeter, 47, assessed the damage to his home, one of the first Make It Right homes built after Hurricane Katrina. Kleinpeter said his house barely shook during the worst of Ida, but the winds ripped off an exterior wall.
Kleinpeter said he intends to stay as long as he can, despite the lack of power and scorching summer temperatures. A cook at Latitude 29 in the French Quarter, he said he took home as much food from the kitchen as he could before the storm hit, but expects it will only last another day in his freezer. After that, he intends to barbecue as much as he can for his neighbors.
Despite the days of hardship to come, Kleinpeter said he manages to find beauty in the struggle. Last night, he looked up into the sky, and with the entire city blacked out, he saw a multitude of stars.
“That never happens,” he said.
Across the street, Aaron Hendricks sat on his porch with his cousin, Chris London. Like Kleinpeter, neither intended to leave.
“As a community, we tend to come together under dire circumstances,” Hendricks said. “Push comes to shove, we’ll survive. If we got to get a fishing pole and go over there and fish and find a way to cook it, we’ll do that.”
After Katrina, London said he and others who lost their homes slept on the bridge for nearly a month. Going without power for a few weeks, which is what most officials are estimating, will be a cakewalk in comparison, he said.
“If I survived that, I can survive this.”