Melissa Harris-Perry: Just over a week ago, Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane. Winds from the storms damaged homes and businesses and left more than a million customers in the Louisiana without power. Then the storm moved towards the Northeast with heavy rainfall that caused extensive flooding and overwhelmed drainage systems. At least 50 people were killed in six Eastern states. WNYC news reporter Karen Yi briefed us on the aftermath of the storm in New Jersey.
Karen Yi: In New Jersey, I would say the Northern and Central regions of the state were hardest hit by the storm. It took many local officials by surprise, just the sheer amount of rain that fell in such a short period of time. In some cases, officials were telling me that they were expecting 3-4 inches of rain and minor flooding and said they got 10 inches of rain in about three hours. One of the hardest-hit boroughs was in Manville Somerset, County.
Here people's homes are just completely empty out into the street and the lawns. There's furniture, couches, cabinets, toys, diapers just littered all over and piled many feet high. The businesses here, as well, suffered. All of their stuff, all their equipment also piled along the sidewalks. Across the state, 27 people died mostly in flood waters, either in their cars or trapped in their homes. There was one particular family of three with their neighbor who died in the same apartment. This was a complex where the first floor was just completely inundated by the floodwaters.
Melissa Harris-Perry: In New York, reporter Gwynne Hogan from WNYC News has been following how residents in Queens are dealing with the aftermath of Ida.
Gwynne Hogan: Unlike Hurricane Sandy where low-lying waterfront areas were most impacted, this hit random pockets of the city all over that just happened to be slightly lower in elevation. Some of the worst flooding happened in middle and working-class residential Queens neighborhoods, home to immigrants from all over the world.
Residents 1: It's very hard to see a home we grew up getting destroyed. I think we just need a home as of right now.
Residents 2: We're just claiming and claiming. There's no help from anybody. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know how we're going forward. I don't know-- The city needs to do something. This is like blocks and blocks of people, these are their homes.
Gwynne Hogan: I went to one part of the borough where every home in a five-block radius took on more than five feet of water. People lost family photographs and mementos, furniture and appliances. In some cases, the basement was the family's whole apartment, and they fled with nothing as the waters rose. 13 people died in New York City, most of them in unregulated basement apartments.
Melissa Harris-Perry: While Northeastern states took the most recent hits from Ida, the state of Louisiana still has hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power. The total damage is estimated to be in the range of 50 billion dollars. In the city of New Orleans, the aftermath of Ida has been an ongoing challenge. At least five people have been found dead at the city's senior living facilities. This past weekend, residents without power were shuttled to shelters in Northern Louisiana and Texas.
I spoke with Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen, the council member for District E in the city of New Orleans, which includes New Orleans East and The Lower Ninth Ward. She told us about the damage from Ida in her district.
Cyndi Nguyen: I have the largest district in Orleans Parish. It also includes [unintelligible 00:03:33], Lake Catherine and [unintelligible 00:03:35]. We're seeing a lot of wind damage. Of course, with the power being out for the entire city, it added more stress and damages to the area. Power line being down, trees, because New Orleans, we were on that path of really utilizing our natural resources to improve the environment. We have a lot of beautiful Oak trees that were impacted by Ida.
We have, of course, homes collapsed from the wind from Ida. There's very similar concerns in every neighborhood. Right now, we're trying to get people power to their home, help with cleaning up trash that has been sitting, and then just making sure that people continue to stay healthy and sane, Melissa. It's a handful. What I'm seeing all around is people or neighbors are helping neighbors, and that's just a beautiful thing to see every day.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I so appreciate you making the point about what a large District E is. I want to dig into the power question first for just a minute because New Orleans East is a bit different than other parts of your district. New Orleans East is a place where I think most of the power has been restored, in part because power lines were built underground. It's a newer part of the city. Is that right? I'm wondering if you could maybe compare the power outages that you're experiencing right now in different parts of your district.
Cyndi Nguyen: Of course, I have no electrical background, but from what I've been in communication with l[unintelligible 00:05:11] almost every day, and because we do have underground wiring, it has helped us greatly. Then in addition to that, the New Orleans East plant that we're utilizing to power up over, I think right now the count is that we're-- over a hundred thousand household has got power because of that plant as well. Without that plant, Melissa, I think most of us in Orleans Parish, we'll still be in the dark.
I do have areas that have wire out the lower New Orleans in particular. We've been very fortunate that most of that area has been restored as well. The key for the ease has been that because most of our wiring is underground. I think as we clean up from Ida and as we move The City of New Orleans forward, we need to look at investment in making sure that every community has better infrastructure. I'm definitely going to be pushing for underground wiring for all neighborhoods in District E.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These districts that you're talking about or these neighborhoods, New Orleans East, Lower Nine, these were some of the hardest-hit 16 years ago after Hurricane Katrina and after the levy failure. Have you been talking with folks on the ground there about how they're feeling now with another monster storm that hit on the exact same day?
Cyndi Nguyen: Yes, of course, very stressful. I didn't leave New Orleans, I stayed. We were doing praying session on the day that Ida hit and just keeping everybody sane because my phone, Facebook, social media, people were very overwhelmed. It's very painful. I hope and I believe that with the work that we've for the past seven to eight days, people recognize that we're not repeating history in District E, Melissa. We're going to make sure that our families are going to be able to rebuild, tapping into resources, making sure that we help every families in our community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: With everything going on, Councilwoman, how do you find joy or resilience in these moments?
Cyndi Nguyen: When I see neighbors helping neighbors, when I get stories from people saying, "Hey, Cyndy, I'm cooking enough food to service a hundred people. Where can I go?" I see that over and over, Melissa, and it's so beautiful to see and to watch how residents take in charge of their neighborhood. I'm just honored and happy to play a very small part just to connect people together and collaborate with them when they have issues and really give them the power of taking charge because as citizen, we need to take charge of our neighborhood. As I see the little kids, I'm a sucker for children, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: [chuckles]
Cyndi Nguyen: I have six children. I'm expecting two grandbabies. I have one coming in three weeks, and then I have one coming in six months. Seeing kids being strong and smiling and just helping their parents, that also bring joys to me. Just seeing everybody working together and moving our community forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Councilwoman Cindy Nguyen, councilmember for District E in the city of New Orleans, thank you so much for joining The Takeaway.
Cyndi Nguyen: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa.
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