Editor’s Note: The following is a dispatch from a reporter on the ground in Houma, Louisiana, a small town of about 30,000 people that was directly in the line of Hurricane Ida. The reporter arrived in Houma with independent relief activists two days after the storm hit. We encourage readers to donate to support our work to cover the capitalist disaster following Ida.
By Joan Hoch
On our way into Houma, we saw the tire on a truck in front of us blow out. The truck pulled over and we stopped to check on the woman driving. She told us that debris on the road from the storm was so bad that she had already lost one tire on her short drive to get gas for her generator. The shredded tire was her spare, there was no cell phone service, and no way to source a replacement tire. Her name was Shonda and she needed to get back to her home in Houma.
We gave her a ride back to Houma with her gas and got to know her. She has four children: ages 9, 7, 6 years old and an 11-month-old baby. She told us that what she needs most is water, food, and baby items. She stayed out the storm in her home with her children, who she said were “very scared” of the storm. For some of them, it was their first hurricane. Like almost every adult we talked to, Shonda has lived through multiple hurricanes.
Trees were down everywhere, but across the major roads in and out of Houma they had mostly been cut up and moved out of the way. Power lines were down everywhere, with cars having to skirt around them to get down the road. Police and sheriff’s vehicles were outside of most gas stations. In the more affluent part of town, we passed large houses that already had fully repaired roofs. In Shonda’s neighborhood, homes were decimated. The wind had blown roofs completely off. Downed trees crushed houses. We were told that the rain was worse during Katrina, but the wind was worse with Ida, reaching up to 150 mph.
We brought Shonda home and delivered the gas. Her family was sitting outside when we pulled up, grilling chicken with wood they had cut from downed trees. Her children were jumping on a trampoline in the front yard. We were offered dinner and got to know her family. They told us that there has been no relief efforts and that we were the first people they had seen offering help of any kind. Everyone knew everyone passing by and greeted each other.
A man close with Shonda told us that most people who remained were not “physically fit, mentally fit, or financially fit to evacuate.” Their neighbor across the street, a woman in her mid 90’s, rode the storm out alone in her home. Other neighbors had no water, no electricity, and said that they expected nothing from FEMA or Red Cross. It was just the night before that a community member had begun to clear trees from the street.
We went to bring water to Shonda’s mother’s home a block down the street. A man named Louis and two men, both named Jerome, approached us while I was taking photos of damage. Jerome Jackson had the roof torn completely off of his home. His shed was completely destroyed. He brought me inside his home and showed me the damage. During the storm, he stayed in his home until the roof started to come in through the ceiling. His walls were covered in photographs of his family.
We were brought to the home of a woman named Barbara, who invited us in and described the damage to her home, at one point saying if you “bring their ass in here now, you better come with a umbrella!”
Barbara is 74-years old with a number of serious health issues and had no electricity or water and was without recourse. Barbara, who is diabetic, was afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep her insulin cold. She has just had her sixth neck surgery and should have been wearing her neck brace, but was not able to as she had to be mobile to attempt to fix her home.
“Where is Red Cross, is there a truck that’s going to bring at least some water?” Barbara said, “See if we got soap? People lost soap and water and clothes and everything and nobody’s here giving us any kind…We don’t know what direction to take. They’ve given us a phone number…and we don’t have phone service!”
Houma is a close knit community and they have been mobilizing to carry out recovery collectively in the absence of aid from the state. There has been almost no news coverage of the situation in Houma. The people wanted us to document what they were experiencing and to tell their story. They have lived through countless hurricanes and know that the state has never provided anything for them. They are angry and they are resilient.
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