New Orleans's resilience tested once again, as tornadoes tear through city

Tornadoes tear through Louisiana, the latest in a string of natural disasters to hit a state all too familiar with the rebuilding process. 

Gerald Herbert/AP
Eshon Trosclair holds her son Camron Chapital after a tornado tore through home while they were inside on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 in the eastern part of New Orleans. The National Weather Service says at least three confirmed tornadoes have touched down, including one inside the New Orleans city limits. Buildings have been damaged and power lines are down.

Half a dozen tornadoes slammed New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana on Tuesday, injuring dozens but causing zero fatalities.

"(Hail) rocks were falling on the car, and I was looking out the side door and saw the clouds moving fast. I heard this sound. We looked up in the air and we could see debris in the distance and before we knew it, it was just barreling down on us," resident Artie Chaney recalled to the Associated Press.

Hail and high winds accompanied the twisters, which leveled trees, downed power lines, and flattened homes across the state. The storm also knocked down a gas station canopy, and flipped a food truck upside down, leaving shards of metal hanging from trees in its wake.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency throughout Louisiana, and the National Guard continues search and rescue operations, looking for stranded survivors and investigating the extent of the damage.

"The width of the devastation was unlike any that I have seen before," Governor Edwards told a news conference. "When you see it from the air you're even more impressed that so few people were injured and that nobody's life was lost."

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told Reuters that one tornado left a trail of destruction about two miles long and half a mile wide, covering an area home to about 5,000 properties.

Louisiana is no stranger to extreme weather events. A string of tornadoes battered the state this time last year, devastating flooding damaged more than 60,000 homes last August, and the Katrina recovery is entering its twelfth year.

But in the face of these past disasters Louisiana communities have stepped up time and again to meet the challenge of neighbors in need. After last summer’s floods, more than 180 local hosts took advantage of Airbnb’s disaster response tool to open their homes to people displaced by the rising waters.

Kim Stewart of Baton Rouge described her gratitude for The Christian Science Monitor at the time: “The generosity, compassion and caring, to take from their own income and welcome strangers into their property. There are just no words for that. There are no words. I truly believe it’s a Southern thing.”

One of those hosts was Matt Hahne, himself a survivor who’d lost his home to hurricane Katrina and relocated to Houston for six months. Mr. Hahne jumped to pay forward the kindness of strangers who had helped him get back on his feet.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he told the Monitor. “It’s very easy to do, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Others pitched in too. The University of South Carolina football team took donations as a gesture of thanks to the Louisiana State University community, who had helped provide some relief during flooding the previous fall in Columbia, S.C., and some residents with boats banded together to form the self-named “Cajun Navy.” Using information gleaned from Facebook, they were able to mount their own rescue effort and save those stranded by the floods.

And for examples of communities coming together to rebuild, one need look no farther than post-Katrina New Orleans, ten years after the disaster.

Thanks to $71 billion in federal aid for rebuilding infrastructure, a startup-friendly business environment attracting “brainpower” at twice the national average, and a population who cares, the city is well on its way to a renaissance.  

“New Orleans is the greatest comeback story since Lazarus came back from the dead,” John Travis Marshall, a Georgia State University law professor who worked as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority until 2011, told the Monitor at the time. “We had not seen a challenge like this in city rebuilding since World War II.”

Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, which played a major philanthropic role in the city’s recovery, attributed its success in no small part to the engaged populace: “New Orleans is not a top-down city,” she told the Monitor in 2015.

Residents affected by the latest tornadoes are devastated at the thought of starting again, some not for the first time, as Louisiana faces yet one more test to its resiliency.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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