Marta Enamorado with five of her seven children in front of her house in southeast New Orleans/em>
Four years ago, Marta Enamorado, her husband and her children arrived in New Orleans from Honduras. Eventually, they found the trailer home where she would start a new life nearly 20 miles south of town. The house was located in a housing complex with almost 50 families, all of Hispanic origin. The house was within the budget, but it was just steps from a branch of the Mississippi River. Marta and her family learned to live with slight overflows of the river due to the typical rains of the region.
The 2021 Hurricane Season, however, brought Ida, a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Louisiana in August. Ida would become the second most intense and destructive hurricane to hit the Louisiana coast. Katrina, in 2005, is at the top of the list.
Marta was just over 8 months pregnant when Ida set her sights on New Orleans. The family complied with the evacuation order and sought temporary refuge in Kansas. After the hurricane passed, Marta returned to her house as soon as the authorities allowed it, which coincided with the beginning of her labor pains. “Then I came. And yes, I got sick because starting over from scratch is not easy… But thank God we are still alive, my children are still alive, and that is what gives us strength to continue.” Her daughter was born healthy a week after the hurricane struck. However, strong winds damaged the roof, and the rising river flooded the rooms, ruining all their belongings.
Now with 7 children, Marta and her husband decided to start over and repair their home. “And then my older children, they gave me strength because they said: ‘Mom, but we are fine. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to do it all over again.” And yes, it is not easy because many families have left here,” says Marta. Of the 50 mobile homes in the neighborhood, at least a third suffered extensive damage. In front of Marta’s trailer there is only the base of a house and two doors down, a tree fell on two units that today continue as the day of the disaster.
One of the several houses -trailers- that were impacted as a result of Hurricane Ida 2021
The rebuilding process has not been easy for the families who stayed behind. They explain that they have received no help from the local, state, or federal government. Almost a year after the passage of Ida, the only alternative presented by the government is for Marta and her family to move to another place, but they have not been offered a home with space for everyone. “They are not going to give me a lease with my children. It only reaches a maximum capacity of 5 people. So what about my other children? Martha said. To date they have managed to survive, they tell us, thanks to the help of religious and community organizations.
The risk faced by families like Marta gets worse every year due to global warming caused in large part by the combustion of fossil fuels. Although most of the studies carried out by scientific institutions and government entities such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) do not confirm that the climatic emergency and the accumulation of greenhouse gases influence the number and frequency of tropical cyclones, this factor seems to have a significant effect on the characteristics of the storms, causing a higher intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale, a faster strengthening, a longer circulation, a slower displacement and a much higher rainfall accumulation potential.
As the fuel industry and our activities continue to release greenhouse gases, we will not only see sea levels rise, but also a greater chance of more intense hurricanes. This dangerous combination will exacerbate the economic impact of tropical cyclones, the world’s costliest natural disaster.
And much of the impact will fall on minority residents of the coastline, who already suffer the most serious and lasting effects of these catastrophes.
For Leticia Casildo, the co-founder and director of Familias Unidas en Acción, neither the studies nor the reports are necessary, since she claims to be an eyewitness to the precariousness in which these communities end up after the hurricanes pass through New Orleans.
Leticia Casildo in front of Familias Unidas en Acción in new orleans
“Unfortunately, the houses in which our communities live are the first affected. We rarely see spaces where there are large residences that [have] disasters. Perhaps our families here live in mobile homes or “trailas” as they are called. And these ‘trailas’ are old houses that they have tried to rebuild. And when the season comes… they flood. It could be the [wind]…the roofs are ripped off. And in the same way they lose everything because everything is taken away”, Leticia explained.
The activist adds that, regardless of the government in power, the minority communities of Louisiana receive guarantees of assistance that in the long run are not fulfilled or fall short. People, she adds, are tired of what she describes as empty promises.
“Every time such a disaster happens, our community is hopeful when the government says, ‘There are so many resources for the community.’ But it is an illusion because it never reaches our communities. Because many of our communities are undocumented, mixed-status communities, and that… does not allow resources to reach our families. So, our children who are American citizens are condemned with us”, explains Leticia.
And the fear of being discovered is what discourages many Hispanics who urgently need help. “People are always in constant fear…because they don’t have a defined status even though some of them, or the vast majority, have children’s that are US citizen. But these children end up condemned with their parents without being able to access any type of help offered by the government… because they do not have documents, because of the discrimination they sometimes receive, because they feel like despised or second class citizens, because they believe they have no right to ask, to save their lives”, adds Leticia.
Leticia, directora de Familias Unidas en Acción, speaking with residents impacted by Hurricane Ida, a year after the disaster
Familias Unidas en Acción helps hundreds of families with basic necessities; from food to diapers and cleaning supplies. And not only in case of disasters but, for example, during the pandemic. According to Leticia, they managed to be an important source of support thanks to the solidarity of other neighbors: “Because I can tell you that we do not receive resources from the government, but from the communities, from the people who have that empathy… who know that the system does not work for the vast majority of human beings. So how can we think about going to bed with a full and satisfied stomach knowing that there is a child who may be crying because mom has no milk to give him?”
The organization that Casildo chairs does not receive help from the government to bring aid to hundreds of families: “The only way we have seen our [survival] as a community is that we have organized ourselves to help ourselves, to help each other. Because we know that no one is going to come to save us but ourselves. We have a very common phrase that says, ‘Only the people save the people’. But really, we live it because in the time that we have been through so much disaster and pandemics… as a community we were able to survive by supporting each other.”
This systemic lack of government support for Hispanic families like Marta Enamorado’s and her 7 children is a source of concern and anxiety for community organizations like the one led by Casildo. “It’s a frustrating situation a lot of times. That you go to bed, you can’t sleep because you think there is someone else, there is someone else who is in need of your support”, Leticia concludes.