If New Orleans had to have the eye of a hurricane pass within 100 miles of the center of town, it couldn’t have done better than Hurricane Gustav, the Category 2 storm that hit the area Sept. 1.
Local apartment owners are relieved to report no major damage, despite winds that topped 110 miles per hour and waters that spilled over the floodwalls around the city’s Industrial Canal. Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., asset-manages more than 3,000 affordable apartments in the New Orleans area. None of them were damaged in the storm.
“I don’t think we got hurt at all,” said Pres Kabacoff, CEO of local affordable developer HRI Properties, which operates more than 1,800 apartments in the area. Even HRI’s Bonne Terre Village, an affordable seniors community located in Houma, La., near the path of the eye of the storm, only suffered minor damage, including an overturned wooden fence. Other buildings in the area lost roofs to wind or falling trees, according to local apartment managers.
New Orleans was spared major flooding because its levee system, which is still being repaired and upgraded by the Army Corps of Engineers, held waters back. Water standing in the streets from heavy rainfall in some areas was quickly pumped away. Local apartment experts hope the Army Corps of Engineers will raise floodwalls even higher around the Industrial Canal, which were just barely high enough. Waves pushed some water over the top.
“We survived a Category 2, but barely,” said Kabacoff. “Had Gustav been a Category 3, 4, or 5 storm, we would have had serious damage.”
Nearly 2 million people evacuated from south Louisiana in the days before Gustav’s arrival. That made many apartment managers anxious since about one in five apartments in the area was broken into during the days before and after Hurricane Katrina, according to the New Orleans Apartment Association. This time, however, managers reported no looting of their buildings, thanks in large part to security provided to the empty city by local law enforcement.
“Every couple of blocks there would be a police car with its lights on or a Humvee from the National Guard,” said David Abbenante, president of HRI Management and president of the apartment association. “The place was locked down.”
By Sept. 4, residents were returning to the city, although power was still out for much of the state. Gustav, meanwhile, had weakened to a tropical depression and was traveling north through the Midwest.