A chimney ripped off the roof. A foot of standing water on the floor. A missing fence. This is what Loyola University New Orleans student Ja’Colbi Rivers saw when he returned to his home after Hurricane Ida inflicted catastrophic damage across Louisiana.
Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29, according to the National Hurricane Center. Sixteen years earlier, the infamous Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane about 40 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, according to the National Weather Service. As of Sept. 4, close to 700,000 people were without electricity in Louisiana, according to data from the tracker PowerOutage.us.
“We were thinking about riding it out because we heard when it made landfall, it would be a Category 4, but that it would quickly weaken and move on out,” Rivers said. “We never expected it to hover over a certain area for that many days and still be a Category 4.”
Brooklyn Joyner, another student at Loyola University, also planned to ride out the storm in New Orleans with her family when they thought it would only be a Category 2 or 3 hurricane.
“We didn’t realize how bad it was, we were planning to stay,” Joyner said. “In a way, it was kind of unexpected. We thought the power was just going to go out, but now everything is in complete disarray all over Louisiana.”
Rivers’ parents lived in Louisiana at the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he said that Hurricane Ida proved to be far more catastrophic.
“I don’t really remember because I was, like, seven, but my mom and dad told me that we didn’t get damage at all [during Katrina],” Rivers said. “The main thing was that the fence in the yard was tilted. So when we went back home yesterday, they were really shocked by how much damage the winds brought to our house compared to Katrina.”
Rivers and his family are currently staying with his grandmother, whose house sustained less damage than theirs.
“Our chimney was kind of ripped off, so we had one foot of water inside the house,” Rivers said. “The fence in the backyard between me and the neighbors was completely gone. The living room had water; my mom’s room had water; my room had water. The back part of the house was completely flooded. My mom and dad said that this was ‘our Katrina.’”
Domonique Tolliver, another student at Loyola, said the damage to her family’s house is not the biggest concern in the aftermath of this hurricane.
“For us, we got over four feet of water in our house from Katrina. Luckily our house didn’t have much damage [from Ida], just a few shingles were gone,” Tolliver said. “COVID has impacted the finances a lot, but [my parents are] not as financially unstable as they were back then. I think the similarity with this one is that there’s an uncertainty. My mom was worried that they were going to cancel school for the rest of the year. Both my parents are teachers, so their entire income would be gone.”
All three students are involved in the journalism program at Loyola, and they tried to cover Hurricane Ida even as they evacuated the state.
“I still work for my university’s newsroom, so while I was evacuating, I was in charge of our Twitter,” Tolliver said. “I had to be on it all day unless I was driving, and I just saw destruction, and at one point I just broke down crying. I have to cover it because it’s my job, but this is my home, I don’t want to see it like that. Sometimes, with some stories, you’re too close to it.”
Joyner said that one of the most difficult parts was interviewing people who had been impacted by the storm even more than her family.
“It’s really hard asking people to talk about this really bad thing that’s happened to them,” Joyner said. “[One] of my sources for one of my stories, she told me that her son-in-law died. She was evacuated from a hurricane and then her son-in-law died. As a journalist, what do you even say?”
Though Loyola University shut down operations during the hurricane, they have announced plans to return to online classes Sept. 13 and in-person classes Sept. 20. For some students, however, this return date feels like too big of a reach.
“I was talking to this girl who was like, ‘We don’t have water or power and we don’t have the money to evacuate, so I’m not worried about school right now,’ ” Tolliver said. “ ‘I’m worried about having food and trying to survive.’ ”