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Lessons learned from Hurricane Ida

While the recovery from Hurricane Ida continues, Joe Valiente, Director of Emergency Management in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana said they are also focused on the...

Hurricane Ida, which originated from a tropical wave in August of 2021 in the Caribbean Sea, killed 95 people in the U.S. during a destructive rampage from the Gulf Coast to New York.

Sustained winds of 150 miles per hour pummeled Louisiana, becoming the second most damaging hurricane in that state’s history, after Katrina in 2005.

Thirty-three people died.

Joe Valiente, Director of Emergency Management in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana called the storm, which destroyed 25% of all the buildings in the town of Grand Isle, “rare”.

He said, “It formed very late and it was extremely erratic in its path. It was jogging 30-60 miles east and west the entire time. We kept hoping it was going to make that 60-mile jog to the west.”

But the storm took the opposite track.

“Because of that, Grand Isle, Lafitte, and the extreme western portion of upper Jefferson Parish, which is inside the levee protection system, took an extreme amount of damage,” Valiente said in an interview.

According to Valiente, “Grand Isle was obliterated. Literally, obliterated. There were 16 to 24 inches of sand on the entire island.”

Valiente said the intense storm surge deposited 3 feet of swamp mud on Lafitte.

Communication during and after the storm

From a communications standpoint, Valiente said they relied on one of the largest statewide radio systems in the country.

“We used the LWIN system, which is a 1500 megahertz radio system. Louisiana can reach out through our first responder’s radio system to 96,000 partners in the state.”

He said, “From a first responder’s standpoint, the communications were excellent.”

That was important because devastating storms like Ida can shut down mobile communications for long periods.

“We lost a tremendous amount of cell service when you lose the electrical grid. Jefferson Parish –the entire Parish –lost 100% of the grid for a minimum of 14 days.”

With the power grid being down, the only way most people could get any information was through radio broadcasts.

“Radio became our primary source of communication because the cable was out. We did a tremendous amount of push-outs on radio, which turned out to be extremely important for us.

A good relationship with FEMA

Recalling the intensity of Hurricane Katrina, which severely tested FEMA’s capabilities, Valiente said, “I can honestly say I was here in a law enforcement capacity for Katrina, and FEMA was not prepared for that storm.”

Dozens of catastrophic storms, floods, and fires have taken place since Katrina devastated large parts of Louisiana. Valiente said FEMA has demonstrated that it has learned from the experience.

“They were in a much better place for Ida. FEMA has definitely has upped their game quite a bit. And it’s critical, because after storms, especially like Ida, you lose power; you lose all your infrastructure that makes it possible for people to live normal lives.”

He said when that happens a good relationship with FEMA can make a difference immediately.

“FEMA is directly tied into the Department of Child and Family Services. Each state has one. That’s critical because they provide the SNAP program and the DSNAP program.”

The connection, he said is important because, “individuals that have been displaced by a storm like this are able to go buy food, diapers, baby formula or anything along those lines, and it’s critical that we can get those cards in the individual’s hands as soon as possible.

The Future

While the recovery from Hurricane Ida continues in parts of Jefferson Parish, Valiente said they are also focused on the future. Post-Katrina housing codes are being strictly enforced.

“40% of the structures on Lafitte were not damaged as a result of Ida. Those were built, after Katrina, with the new hurricane codes. So of course we’re going to watch that very carefully and we’re going to make sure that everything that’s rebuilt in Grand Isle and Lafitte follows the up-to-date codes.”

As far as his message to the public.

“Jefferson Parish is storm ready. It’s important for individuals to pay attention to what’s going on around them. Follow the rules and regulations. When they are asked to evacuate, they have to leave and get out of harm’s way.”

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