Frank Morris / NPR
GALLIANO, Louisiana – Hurricane Ida deprived thousands of residents in this state of their electricity, their livelihoods and, by destroying their homes, caused their net worth to drop to almost zero.
In this city, it is easy to see the carnage of neighborhoods as you walk around. The trailers fall asleep crushed on their sides. In some lots, there is no semblance of a building, just wadded rubble, crumbling furniture, and broken glass.
An oasis among destruction
But the house at 132 Orange is an oasis on this street. Somehow, the house that Leydi Lopez and Ivan Velazquez share with their children and his mother has stayed together. The roof is in tatters, some of the siding has blown off, there are broken windows, the door no longer closes, and the power has been cut from the storm, but it is habitable by current Galliano standards.
And because this trailer is relatively intact, it’s packed to the brim. The neighbors, whose house was destroyed, moved in. They are two children, both parents, and a sick grandmother who sits on the sofa, clutching her walker with an air of empty exhaustion. Ten people in all, crammed into this single-width trailer, with one bathroom.
The neighboring couple and their young daughter have moved into the children’s room
“Grandma sleeps on the sofa and her son sleeps in the recliner,” Lopez says of his neighbor’s mother and grandson. “We use the other room, there is a king bed there, so I sleep with my mom and two kids and my husband uses a single mattress that we put in there every day.”
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All the children are confined indoors, because the outside world is a dangerous area, and they don’t go to school indefinitely. Lopez has a small generator, but only runs it sporadically to save gas. There is no television, no working appliances, all the cooking is done on the barbecue outside.
And the power. They are told it might not happen here until mid-October.
The power could be cut for another month
Tens of thousands of families are facing similar circumstances.
“Everything repeats itself over and over again. People are stressed,” says Ivan Velazquez. It’s like a bomb, he says, the pressure is building.
Velazquez spends most of his time working, embarking on repair projects for the wealthier people. So he is negotiating the relentless traffic jams in the hurricane destruction zone, caused by crews cutting trees and repairing power lines, faulty brake lights and wreckage.
“On the road almost every day, I see accidents, serious accidents.”
A few days earlier, he had seen a hit and run on the US-90 and had seen the victim dead by the side of the road.
Lopez and Velazquez are grateful to at least have their own little refuge here. A boulder on the desolate lane of Clair McGowan’s Square fell from its six-foot concrete columns. It sags laterally, dark, wet and precarious. McGowan and her husband live in the relative comfort of her sister’s house, although she also lacks electricity and even water is a problem.
Frank Morris / NPR
“We were out of water for two or three days, so we had to get out of the water from the bayou,” McGowan explains, with a smile. “My husband and I went with a cooler so my kids could use the bathroom. We have to do what we have to do,” she laughs.
We have to do what we have to do
McGowan says she is simply putting her life in God’s hands. That’s the chorus here, keep going, and somehow it will all work out. Many people here have a deep religious faith.
Go up the street, life goes on. Leydi Lopez is getting ready to cook a special meal.
“I cook typical Mexican food. It’s mole,” Lopez said beaming. “Because we’ve been eating eggs all week. Yeah. So we decided to do something else today.”
Families here face a much more difficult decision this month. Whether it’s to fix that trailer, like they did after Hurricane Laura last year, then hope, hope a few good years before the next natural disaster. That, or pack your bags and find a safer place to call home.
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