Some residents of low-lying Louisiana parishes heeded evacuation orders and fled to higher ground, though government leaders fretted that the storm was not being taken seriously enough. In New Orleans, where no evacuation order has been issued, many residents chose to stay put. As the storm made landfall to the southeast late Tuesday evening, most businesses were closing, but a few bars were still open in some spots, such as the French Quarter.
“Now is the time to hunker down,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged late Tuesday. In a news conference, he decried “knuckleheads” who were splashing in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, ignoring warnings to stay indoors.
Armed National Guard troops, activated by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, patrolled New Orleans streets and stood guard outside the Superdome, which became a squalid refuge and a source of national shame in the chaotic days after Katrina hit in 2005. Isaac was arriving exactly on the seventh anniversary of Katrina, a coincidence that forced the cancellation of memorial events and made New Orleanians remember the painful ordeal they had endured, even as they were waiting for another storm to hit.
Mistrust vs. hope
When storms come, Brenda Walker doesn’t place her faith in much. She counts on the pistols she keeps — one for each hand. And she trusts in her black-and-white pit bulls, Boo Boo and Ro Ro.
But the huge levee that rises a few steps from the property that her father bought in the 1940s in the Lower Ninth Ward is another matter. It’s been fixed and raised and spruced since it gave way during Katrina, carrying away her father’s house and so many others. But still Walker wonders. “I don’t trust nuthin,’ ” she says between drags of a cigarette on the porch of the snug new house she built there.
The ancient mistrust of the Brenda Walkers of this city — a skepticism born of decades of flooded streets — is, however, coming face to face this week with a countervailing sense of optimism among other residents, a hope that one of the more ambitious engineering projects in recent U.S. history could come close to making this jewel of a city watertight.
In the past seven years, crews have laced together an intricate system of flood walls, levees, gates and pumping stations — essentially a massive plumbing operation designed to block storm surges from entering the city and to capture and pump out the rainwater that fills its streets. The $14.5 billion project is not quite completed, but federal officials were still expressing confidence that the city would be protected. The project is studded with superlatives touted by the Army Corps of Engineers: the world’s largest drainage pumping station and the biggest surge barrier of its kind in the world, to name a few. Now the question is how it will perform.