Louisiana woman living in N.L. braces as Hurricane Ida bears down on hometown

·2 min read
Courtney Pellegrin-Howell leads a group of hurricane relief volunteers in Chauvin, La. (Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell - image credit)
Courtney Pellegrin-Howell leads a group of hurricane relief volunteers in Chauvin, La. (Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell - image credit)

Courtney Pellegrin-Howell was glued to news from New Orleans on Sunday as Hurricane Ida made landfall and encroached on the area where she grew up.

"It's pretty nerve wracking," said Pellegrin-Howell, who is originally from Chauvin, a town deep in the Louisiana wetlands that lays directly in the eye of the Category 4 hurricane.

Pellegrin-Howell, who has been living in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2008, said she is "very intimately aware of what is likely going to happen," in Ida's wake.

"There is a lot of extreme poverty in that area," she said, "and it's going to be devastating. I fear it. I definitely fear for the communities."

Pellegrin-Howell was living in Louisiana when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit late in the summer of 2005.

In the destruction wrought by those storms, Pellegrin-Howell said she saw a glimmer of hope.

"While it was devastating, my initial feeling was that now there is national attention, there is opportunity for our rural communities to get protected," she said.

Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell
Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell

Pellegrin-Howell stayed put in Louisiana and started Bayou Grace, a non-profit that provided assistance to those affected by the storm, and advocated for better protection of coastal areas.

But sixteen years to the day after Katrina hit, Pellegrin-Howell's hopes for a more robust coastal protection system are all but thwarted: The bayou coastline, she said, is more eroded — and its residents more vulnerable — than ever.

"There's nothing to help protect these communities outside of some levees that are there, but those should absolutely never be first lines of defence, and unfortunately they are now," she said.

"What they need is protection and true protection, and it's unbelievable that it hasn't happened when you think of the resources that are there."

Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell
Submitted by Courtney Pellegrin-Howell

Pellegrin-Howell has a number of her family members living in the path of the storm: Her niece is sheltering in New Orleans where she lives with her partner, while her mother, sister and brother have hunkered down about 45 minutes north. Other family members have fled for Texas and Tennessee.

Barring any tornadoes, Pellegrin-Howell's biggest concern is a severe power outage. Her mother is on oxygen, and temperatures tend to be stifling this time of year.

But Pellegrin-Howell considers her family fortunate compared with what others are forced to face.

"They have the resources to evacuate," she said.

"But that is absolutely not true for a lot of people who are in the path of this storm."

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