New Orleans — Three days shy of the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I felt slight anxiety about packing as I thought to myself, “What can I not live without or replace?” as I made a pile of items next to my leopard print suitcase, including a plastic ziplock filled with Polaroid photos of my younger self that my mom salvaged after cleaning out our home after Katrina.
My siblings, mother and I knew it would be costly to evacuate ahead of a dangerous Category 4 storm, and we also knew we couldn’t bear not having A/C for two to three weeks in one of Louisiana’s hottest months. We arrived in Dallas, Texas, two days before Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans and just like after Katrina, I felt like one of the lucky ones. I was physically safe from the storm and able to evacuate with my family.
I thought about the young Black people and Black families who were already struggling to afford the high housing costs for substandard living conditions and how they would be displaced and without a paycheck for weeks after scrolling on Instagram and Facebook and seeing the damaged buildings around New Orleans and neighborhoods underwater in LaPlace. Black youth and young adults are typically left out of decision-making in addition to being left out from receiving support and aid, so I wanted to create a space for them to share their experiences first-hand and how decision-making can be improved in the future.
The following interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Twanna LeBeau, 22 years old
College Student at University of New Orleans
Morgan City, LA
LeBeau, a senior sociology major, lives at Lafitte Village, a family housing facility on the University of New Orleans (UNO) campus where international students and students with families mostly live. Two to three days after the storm hit, UNO would line buses up to evacuate students living in its dorms, in addition to Privateer Place. LeBeau didn’t receive information that Lafitte Village would be included in the evacuation. She drove to Houston, Texas on Friday, August 27, two days before Hurricane Ida hit.
AR: What support did you have preparing for the storm?
TL: They [the University of New Orleans administration] were saying we’re monitoring the storm [and] stay away from the windows [and] stay inside. They were basically telling us what the city was saying.
I just felt like I didn't have any help. I didn’t have guidance. I just went into survivor mode. 'I [must] evacuate no matter what.' It was me, myself, and my dog. We just had to pick up what we had and go.
AR: How do you feel about returning to New Orleans?
TL: I actually don’t want to return to New Orleans. I’m from one of the tri areas that got hit worse, like Terrebonne Parish and Lafourche Parish. I just hate how New Orleans is getting [all] of the [media] coverage. I don’t want to live in a city that doesn't care about surrounding areas … They [New Orleans officials] were flooding surrounding areas [after Katrina] to save the city. I don’t want to live in a city that doesn't actually care about their people. Because obviously they [New Orleans’ local government] don't care … especially since they left a lot of people stranded, hungry and hot. No water. No food. No nothing. You got people from other states — Kentucky, Texas, Atlanta — they gotta travel all the way down here to help their sister states. And I just don't like how the city itself can’t help its own people.
AR: How can you be better supported as a college student and young, New Orleans resident moving forward?
TL: [We] need emotional and mental support in a time like this and financial [support]. Our 14th day of class was on the second [of September], but we couldn’t go to class on the 14th day. And so financially, most people's refunds would have helped them in a situation like this ... a lot of people are out of town trying to survive off scarce resources.
UNO and the City of New Orleans should have better evacuation plans because it could have gone way better and way smoother … If [they] knew a week ahead that this storm was going to be pretty bad, then we should have evacuated the week that [they] knew and not waited two days after the storm hit to evacuate the city.
Trevon Cole, 26 years old
Writer and Digital Media Creative
New Orleans, LA
Cole completed film production training at NOVAC and served as a fellowship alumnus at Lede New Orleans prior to Hurricane Ida hitting Southeast Louisiana. He’s a native of Thibodaux, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in September 2020 after graduating from William Carey University in Mississippi to be closer to his friends and access greater economic opportunities as a creative.
Cole stayed at his Mid-City home in New Orleans with one of two roommates when the storm hit Sunday, August 29. Pieces of his bedroom ceiling fan fell during the storm and they were immediately without electricity. Tuesday, August 31, he evacuated to Ponchatoula, Louisiana where his roommate’s parents had a generator at their home. He then drove to Thibodaux, Louisiana Wednesday, September 1 to check on his parents before evacuating to Houston. "Everything is crushed there," said Cole as he described his time visiting his hometown.
AR: How have you been impacted by Hurricane Ida?
TC: The hurricane, on top of COVID, [is] messing up [film] opportunities right there ... [and] getting gas has been stressful. My friend and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get gas yesterday [in Thibodaux]. It was like scavengers. There isn't a good system with accessing gas.
AR: What led you to stay for the hurricane?
TC: Financially, it’s just expensive.
AR: How do you think you can be better supported as a young New Orleans resident moving forward?
TC: Mentally. Because I’ve also been through a tornado [as a college student] … I know how mentally draining it can be. I’ve been on the move since the hurricane hit, so I don’t even have time to think. All that could build up and [someone] could end up having a big anxiety attack or something. Even if you become numb to things, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect on you.
Iliana Paul, 21 years old
College Student at University of New Orleans
New Orleans, LA
Paul is a senior naval architecture and marine engineering student at the University of New Orleans (UNO). Paul has been experiencing symptoms from a multi-systemic disease since early 2021. “When people have rare multi-systemic diseases, what happens is, you see each organ starts to slowly shut down as time goes on … So currently, right now, my heart is not working properly. My stomach has not been working properly since about 2018. And, you know, I have a lack of feeling in my feet, my whole entire right leg, like almost completely a little bit past the knee is numb, and I can't really feel vibrations ... I have a hard time walking as well. Also, my brain is extremely fatigued. I have ADHD and my ADHD has gotten so much worse.” The Phoenix, Arizona native attended a virtual hospital visit at the Mayo Clinic days after Hurricane Ida hit. Doctors still don't know what she has, so they haven't diagnosed her, but they know she has a multi-systemic problem that is causing her autonomic nervous system to die and it causes fructose malabsorption and other organ-specific problems. She evacuated to San Antonio, Texas before the storm to stay with a cousin.
AR: How were you impacted by Hurricane Ida?
IP: My physical health is definitely very much jeopardized. In any case, where I have to move extraneously like this, being on the road for like 19 hours is something, as me with these health problems, would prepare at least a month for ... I'm sitting in this car, and I'm having to escape [evacuate] and I'm eating fast food because you know, you can't cook on the road. I'm supposed to stay away from processed food at all costs. I also struggle extremely with fatigue.
I've been waking up very pale [since arriving in San Antonio, Texas]. I get my color throughout the day, you know, and that's the whole thing with these multi-systemic diseases. They’re very tricky. You help yourself in the same ways that you hurt yourself. Exercise helps you, but it hurts you. And so you're kind of trading off symptoms all the time.
[Because of my research related to climate] I know the possibilities to provide more sustainable energy to Louisiana. It just struck my heart and my brain mentally. Marshes are natural barriers to hurricanes. Our marshes are being killed by offshore industries.
That mental health portion, I think of fleeing disasters, always gets missed because I guess the generation before didn't really care. But now that they're proving that mental illness can actually cause physical illnesses very badly, they should [care].
AR: How do you think you could be better supported as a young New Orleans resident and as a college student?
IP: I have a very unique experience with this, because [I] go to a school [where] they promise[d] to pay for everything [through my scholarship, the Homer Hitt Scholarship] ... Nobody expects to get sick. I started getting sick and having to take things out of my diet. I can’t eat at that cafeteria [on campus]. And they [UNO’s Administration and Bursar’s Office] will not let me get that money from that meal plan to pay for my food, which is probably three to four times more expensive than the average person's food.
And I have found that .... there's a lack of educational knowledge. And there's a lack of research for chronically ill people, especially in the South. People see disabilities in the South only as people who have physical injuries. They don't understand that people who are invisibly disabled walk around everyday.
Disabled people in New Orleans, especially through this hurricane, were at a major disadvantage. Like, they [the City of New Orleans] didn't call it a formal evac[uation], so they didn't move the stuff in place to move them. All those people in hospitals. They're just stuck, you know? And those are all people who are probably chronically ill, people who really might not survive that in the long run, that might have taken like two more years off their life going through that stress.
People get out, but look at who doesn't get out. There’s a pattern and that pattern is brutal ... I just keep saying disabled people's rights are everyone's rights because really, you know, everybody deserves to ... be able to leave [ahead of] a storm.
Jordan Colin, 17 years old
High School Student at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Artist at Studio Be’s Be Light Art Collective
A day after the storm hit, Colin evacuated to Memphis, Tennessee with his mom, two grandparents, and two younger brothers. “It's difficult because my mother [is] handicapped right now. She broke her leg a month ago. So we had to [evacuate] because I got two little brothers and she's handicap, so us being there was just not gonna work out,” said the young artist. He continued, “my father is still in New Orleans because he's a part of the military so he's on activation right now doing rescue missions.”
AR: How were you impacted by Hurricane Ida?
JC: We stayed during [the storm] and then the power went out. Some shingles fell off the roof. The backyard was a mess. It looked like a jungle. The whole block was covered in trees and branches. While we were evacuating the day after the storm, it was flooded … We were driving through [what] felt like a river. The water was covering up the wheels.
We were getting updates from family back home [while we were in Memphis] about what was going on in Algiers. My grandma’s car got broken into. They shot a cousin of ours in the back of the head, he’s recovering. The whole West Bank is insane right now ... and it feels like a jungle right now. So it's just kind of like, difficult to try and want to go back.
AR: How do you feel about returning to New Orleans/Algiers?
JC: So many things [are] happening right now in my mind. What is school going to be like? What is the city going to be like? Everyone is like ‘I might just stay where I’m at.’ It has been a thought. Obviously I want to go back home and finish school at NOCCA. But you get tired of the same thing happening every year with the lack of commitment to storm [preparation and recovery] … I feel like the elected officials that are put in power, or whoever's over the system of preparing for storms, those people need to re-evaluate what they're doing.
AR: How can you be supported moving forward as a young New Orleanian?
JC: Personally, I think having an outlet to let us let this trauma go, because I feel like what will happen is we won't have any outlets or ways to process this traumatizing experience. And that'll ultimately create a generation of traumatized kids who grow into adults. And that plays into how we act and everything else. And it just repeats the cycle that has been going on for a little while now … I feel like it’s a disconnect between adults and kids right now in the city [New Orleans]. So no one really knows how to cater to us. And it's messed up. But you know, you improvise, you adapt. So hopefully this changes something for the better. Maybe a blessing in disguise, hopefully.