History Repeats Itself: How to Help Southern Louisiana

By Pierce Holloway, CPJ Editor-In-Chief & Emma Vinella-Brusher, Angles Managing Editor

On August 29th, Category 4 Hurricane Ida struck the state of Louisiana. Described by Governor John Bel Edwards as “the strongest storm to hit anywhere in the state since the 1850s,” the storm’s center passed within 18 miles of downtown New Orleans causing tremendous damage to the area.[i] Within hours over 560,000 households were without power, and this has worsened to over 826,000 across the state as of the writing of this article.[ii] These outages come during the late summer heat, when the inability to use air conditioning, dry clothes, and keep food fresh can rapidly lead to unhealthy living conditions and increased safety concerns.

The Same Story, 16 Years Later

Eerily, Hurricane Ida passed through New Orleans 16 years to the day of Hurricane Katrina. This timing conjures visceral memories of the most costly hurricane in U.S. history, in an area still recovering from the storm’s damage. While it is easy to draw comparisons between these two storms, there are important differences to note:

  • Storm Intensity: Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane with a storm diameter of 414 miles. Though Katrina was only classified as Category 3, it reached a diameter of nearly 680 miles, with 28 foot storm surges and wind speeds of 125 mph. Current Ida data finds 150 mph sustained winds and 8-10 foot storm surges, though these may increase as more information is collected.
  • Damage: While it is still too early to estimate the total damage and costs associated with Ida, current predictions are upwards of $15-20 Billion in insured losses.[iii] This is compared to the $176.5 Billion in damages estimated from Hurricane Katrina.[iv] Much of the 2005 damage was caused by levees breaking within the city of New Orleans; fortunately it appears that the levees have been hardened and expanded enough since that they held during Ida.
  • Deaths: Thus far at least 60 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Ida’s wake across six states, though sadly this number is expected to rise as state officials gather additional information.[v] This compares to the over 1,800 deaths associated with Katrina.[vi] However it is important to note that there is always uncertainty surrounding accurately counting storm-related deaths, as the effects are not always immediate.
  • Health Impacts: Thousands if not millions are being displaced due to flooding and wind damages, which makes accessing needed medication and services a challenge. Moreover, experiencing the impacts of hurricanes has been shown to lead to mental disorders among previously healthy individuals while also compounding the detrimental effects of pre-existing mental health disorders.[vii]
A person crosses the street during Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo by: Brandon Bell, Getty Images

What Does “Recovery” Look Like?

When comparing these two severe storms, one important question comes to mind: Have New Orleans and other surrounding communities recovered since Katrina? While there are many useful metrics for assessing recovering, employment levels can provide a quick snapshot. In July 2005, just before Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans area had around 625,000 jobs. In the months following nearly 185,000 jobs were lost as residents fled the area, and many of these jobs never returned. Since Katrina, the state has also struggled with the impacts of the 2007-2009 recession and COVID-19 among other more local obstacles. The combination of each of these has hamstrung a heavily tourist dependent economy, impacting the resilience and ability of communities to recover. As of July 2021 New Orleans had recovered to around 530,000 jobs, still less than 15% of pre-Katrina levels, while employment nation-wide has risen 9% since this time. Hurricane Ida is yet another significant setback in the region’s recovery process.

The effects of Hurricane Ida have been felt well beyond Louisiana as well, with severe damages stretching from the Gulf Coast up into the Northeast. Unfortunately, Ida’s vast destruction may be close to the new normal we can expect for tropical cyclones.While climate models differ in the specifics, there is a growing consensus that storms are projected to significantly intensify as climate change continues.[viii],[ix] Massive infrastructure adaptation is needed across the U.S. to mitigate future storm damages, coupled with the public health resources to ensure vulnerable populations can be protected and well-served.[x]

Organizations to Support During this Time:

[i] Staff, W. (2021, August 28). Hurricane Ida will be ‘strongest storm’ to hit Louisiana since 1850s, governor warns. WAFB.

[ii] PowerOutage.US. Power Outages: Louisiana.

[iii] Otani, A. (2021, August 31). Firms Estimate Hurricane Ida Could Cause Over $15 Billion in Insured Losses. Wall Street Journal.

[iv] Blake, E. S., Landsea, C. W., & Gibney, E. J. (2011). NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS NHC-6. 49.

[v] Paúl, M.L. et al. (2021, September 2). Deaths climb to at least 44 from Northeast floods caused by Hurricane Ida’s remnants. (2021, September 2). Washington Post.

[vi] Bialik, C. (2015, August 26). We Still Don’t Know How Many People Died Because Of Katrina. FiveThirtyEight.

[vii] Espinel, Z. et al. (2019). Forecast: Increasing Mental Health Consequences From Atlantic Hurricanes Throughout the 21st Century. Psychiatric Services, 70(12), 1165–1167.

[viii] Biasutti, M. et al. (2012). Projected changes in the physical climate of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. Climatic Change 112, 819–845.

[ix] Ting, M. et al. (2019). Past and Future Hurricane Intensity Change along the U.S. East Coast. Scientific Reports 9, 7795.

[x] Petkova, E. P. et al. (2015). Climate Change and Health on the U.S. Gulf Coast: Public Health Adaptation is Needed to Address Future Risks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12(8), 9342–9356.

Pierce Holloway is a second-year master’s student at the Department of City and Regional Planning with a focus on Climate Change Adaptation. Before coming to Chapel Hill he worked as a geospatial analyst for Urban3, working on visualizing economic productivity of communities and states. Through his coursework he hopes to explore the nexus between adaptation for climate change and community equitability. In his free time, he enjoys long bike rides, trail running, and any excuse to play outside. 

Emma Vinella-Brusher is a second-year dual degree Master’s student in City and Regional Planning and Public Health interested in equity, mobility, and food security. Born and raised in Oakland, CA, she received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from Carleton College before spending four years at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge, MA. In her free time, Emma enjoys running, bike rides, live music, and laughing at her own jokes.

Featured image courtesy of Scott Olson, Getty Images