NEW ORLEANS — Penny Francis said she got flashbacks from her experience 16 years ago with Hurricane Katrina.
With news of Hurricane Ida’s imminent landfall, Francis, owner of retail and design firm Eclectic Home here, couldn’t help but think back to the 2005 storm that did billions of dollars in damage, displaced residents for months and staggered the city. But this time, she said, the impact was nowhere near as severe.
“It’s like PTSD. It’s the anxiety resurfacing,” Francis said. “I’m looking for the bright side. We don’t have water sitting from levee breaks. In that instance, the water was the killer. This was much more of a wind event.”
The hurricane made landfall on Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm 16 years to the day that Katrina slammed the region. The Associated Press reported that Ida’s 150-mph winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the mainland U.S.
While Francis and her family evacuated to Houston, some of her team members stayed and, after the storm passed, gave her updates, noting that the store, located on Oak Street, was OK.
Vice President of Operations Keith St. Pierre) “stayed in town. I was so worried about him. He made his way to the store to check on things and sent me messages that we’re high and dry with no damage,” Francis said. “We’re blessed and lucky.”
But while her store was unscathed, Francis said that reports out of New Orleans say it could be as many as 21 days before power is fully restored.
In Jefferson, La., part of the greater New Orleans metro area, the story is largely similar, said Billy Rippner, owner of Compass Furniture.
“Because it’s so widespread and because communications are down and there’s no power and limited water, there is so little information coming out. There are no answers yet,” Rippner said. “The power company, all they can say is they’re working on it, they’re trying to assess it, and they’ll let us know when they know something.”
While the storm was more of a wind event, it still had an impact. Rippner said a portion of the roof at his store took damage. “We had some roof damage, so we’re taking care of that right now. We’re getting tarps and other efforts to secure the property,” he said.
And while Rippner has been able to touch base with many of his employees, particularly those who evacuated, there are some who he still hasn’t heard from, primarily due to the lack of stable cell service.
“We’ve been in touch with as many team members as we can,” he said. “Everybody seems to have had some impact. It might not be water damage and complete loss of home, but most people have been challenged by this one with their homes.”
But one major difference from 16 years ago was the absence of flooding. Rippner said that bodes well for the post-Ida recovery and for the next time a storm hits.
“This is the greatest thing to come out of this event is that the levees held. That’s good news for the future,” he said.
After leaving Louisiana
Once the storm passed through Louisiana, it cut through Mississippi, although it had lost a lot of its power by then. Oscar Miskelly, CEO of Miskelly Furniture, said by the time Ida made its way through the state, it was just a series of bad storms.
“Mostly it’s just been storms and high winds and rain. That’s been a blessing for us,” Miskelly said. “Even our Hattiesburg store, which is a little closer to the coast, has been OK.”
In Houston, Gallery Furniture is opening its doors for any displaced Louisiana residents. Additionally, the retailer’s Furniture Flood Truck is on its way to Louisiana to take emergency supplies to the affected region. The store is collecting non-perishable food items, bottled water, diapers, pet food and a selection of toiletries, as well as books for kids and socks.
On the Gallery Furniture website, it noted that Gallery is teaming with the Michael Berry Show and other Houston-area businesses, non-profits and public figures to help in relief efforts.
“We’ve rallied the troops. We’ve already got four or five generators, water, pet supplies, non-perishable food,” said owner Jim McIngvale. “It’s been a tremendous outpouring from the people of Houston. They’re always good about helping.”
McIngvale has welcomed displaced folks to stay in his stores in the past, most recently when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017.
“It’s who I am, it’s who we are. We’re here to help. That’s what we do,” McIngvale said, noting that as of Monday, Gallery had about 100 Louisianans in the store.