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Louisiana Residents Launch Hurricane Aid Project Amid Slow Government Response, Organiser Says

© AFP 2022 / WIN MCNAMEEHomes destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Ida are shown September 2, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Ida made landfall August 29 as a Category 4 storm near Grand Isle, southwest of New Orleans, causing widespread power outages, flooding and massive damage.
Homes destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Ida are shown September 2, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Ida made landfall August 29 as a Category 4 storm near Grand Isle, southwest of New Orleans, causing widespread power outages, flooding and massive damage.   - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.09.2021
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WASHINGTON (Sputnik), Barrington M. Salmon - Residents of New Orleans and other parts of the state of Louisiana hit hard by Hurricane Ida have been forced to launch their own aid initiatives in light of the lack of support from the local and federal governments, an organiser said.
Exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Hurricane Ida switched from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall on 29 August and tearing through the state of Louisiana with ferocious winds clocking 150 miles per hour. Floodwaters engulfed homes and businesses while 1 million customers were left without electricity and suffered through shortages of food, water and gasoline.
Even though New Orleans resident Abdul Aziz evacuated to the neighbouring state of Alabama, he said he knew he needed to get involved. So on Monday, 30 August, he began pulling together a campaign on Instagram joining with other organisations on the ground to take care of people’s immediate needs largely because the government was slow to respond.
"There has been no help from city, state or federal government officials. They have been absolutely absent in providing for residents’ immediate needs," Aziz said. "We can’t wait on government. This is 100% grassroots, regular people coming together… [and] infinitely better than the response of the federal government."
Aziz said they are meeting the immediate needs of residents, unlike the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross.
"We’ve been hearing about people 3-4 hours on the phone with FEMA only to be told that they can’t help. It’s hot in New Orleans, there are no lights and people are frustrated. We have to pull together," he said.
Aziz said they delivered about $500,000 of direct aid including cash, food and supplies which was "not blocked by bureaucratic red tape." Organisationally, they are pushing and sending out via CashApps and Venmo.
"I started fielding a lot of requests from people trapped in their homes," Aziz said. "We posted updates and then had thousands of people who started to follow us. We created a separate Instagram account to get volunteers and we compiled resources such as finding gasoline and charging stations."
He said residents understand that they have to depend on each other and take care of each other until government entities are activated.
"We realize that we’re in this s**t together, whether you’re a rich uptown resident or other residents," Aziz said. "At the end of the day they [government officials] don’t care about us, but moments like this serve to make a powerful statement."
Rather than wait on the government, residents far removed from the levers of power have taken a firm hold of their circumstances, said Aziz.
"Mutual aid organizations immediately began spending cash. They’re actually there doing the work," he said. "It’s exciting to see people band together so quickly and dispense the money. We don’t know and don’t care what people’s political affiliations are. And people who wouldn’t normally talk to me are working with me."
Aziz gave New Orleans city officials some credit, saying they had been moving quicker than state and federal government officials. Although not quick enough.
"It’s hot, 105 degrees with the heat index and the city is just getting around to erecting cooling stations," he said.
Aziz, like other activists and residents, said he expects there to be changes brought about in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
"Someone said yesterday that we’re setting up an emergency response government," he said. "We don’t want to see a repeat of this. We’re trying to ensure that after the next hurricane, there’s not such a high level of need. We’re in the midst of setting up a phone bank; we’re trying to streamline that process."
The city of New Orleans, he added, should already have that in place. He said they have to pressure, move, and become a part of institutions and agencies.
A member of the NYPD supervises tow trucks clearing cars abandoned on the Major Deegan Expressway after the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida brought drenching rain, flash floods and tornadoes to parts of the northern mid-Atlantic, in the Bronx borough of New York City, U.S - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.09.2021
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He said a group of individuals, as well as inter-parish networks of organizations including the Cajun Navy, House of Tulip and Imagine Waterworks, have been working closely on this project. Aziz also said restaurant owners have banded together to "rescue" food and distribute it to those in need.
Meanwhile, mental health experts from across the country have offered themselves as resources.
He said areas surrounding New Orleans, St. Charles Parish, the city of La Place, La Fouche and St. John the Baptist parishes and Grand Isle have been "absolutely devastated," with residents trapped on roofs and in their attics and stuck there until they could be rescued.
"We’ve been doing it all. We’ve been helping everyone including trans people, non-binary and elders in the community," he said.
Aziz said he surprised himself by becoming involved in this project.
"A lot of this comes from the trauma of Katrina. I was stuck, caught in the hurricane, unable to move, unable to do anything and dealing with the mental anguish. I don’t want anybody else to go through what I went through," said Aziz. "This is the first time I’ve ever done this... never in my life have I run something like this."
Aziz describes himself as someone who is a "prepper," focused on preparedness in general.
"I had no intention of doing this. I never thought I’d be here. I take no credit for doing this. It’s a passion I have for my community," he said. "I’m honored that the community trusts me to do this."
Aziz - who said he has freelanced for the New York Times and Die Spiegel for the past 13 years and covered and photographed conflicts in Gaza, the Middle East, Africa and the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville - said he is proud of how people have come together.
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