NEW ORLEANS — First it was COVID-19. Then it was the delta variant. Now it’s Hurricane Ida.
Louisiana just can’t catch a break.
While many industries have found ways to get back to work amid the pandemic, tourism and hospitality are still struggling. Throw a hurricane on top of that, and it makes it even harder for some parts of Louisiana to get back on its feet.
“It’s going to be devastating to the tourism industry,” Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said. “The ones that fall through the cracks are the small businesses in the tourism industry.”
Hotels are doing well in the short term, Nungesser said, as they are currently full of evacuees and emergency workers helping the city and the southeastern part of the state get back on its feet.
He hopes the visitors will start eating at local “mom-and-pop restaurants to help keep them alive.”
“All the shops and the jazz musicians in the Quarter, all the fairs and festivals in those regions — it’s another year without any income,” Nungesser said. “It’s really going to be devastating. And usually during a hurricane, the whole country comes to help us.”
Nungesser said between the pandemic and natural disasters, it’s not just Louisiana that is struggling.
“With the fires in California, it’s not just Louisiana having devastation anymore so it’s going to be on the shoulders of Lousianans to pick ourselves up,” he said. “We’re going to have to get creative and help bring this economy back.”
Hurricane Ida forces plantation closure after year of low turnout
Joy Banner, communications director for the Whitney Plantation said the coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected the nonprofit organization that tells about plantation life from the perspective of the slaves.
The plantation, which opened in 2014, used to see around 100,000 visitors a year before the pandemic. That number has dropped to around 30,000, Banner said.
Her twin sister Jo Banner, executive director of the Descendants Project, said the lack of visitors is also impacting the café she owns in nearby Wallace.
When Hurricane Ida came through it caused significant damage, affecting every building at the plantation. Some of the buildings were destroyed.
“Ida came so quickly,” Joy Banner said. “Now we are going to be offline for an indefinite amount of time.”
The facility is closed until further notice so damage can be assessed and repairs made, Joy Banner said.
Fundraising efforts are underway to help restore the facility and hopefully enable it to move forward with the next phase: Creating a research center where scholars can come and study slavery in a real-life setting.
Still hopeful after nearly two years without work
Charmaine Neville walks through her neighborhood in New Orleans with her dog Nola by her side.
She spends her day visiting friends and doing little things to help other people.
But what she really wants to do, what she was born to do, is sing.
Neville grew up in New Orleans. Her father, Charles Neville, was a saxophonist and founding member of the Neville Brothers.
Like her father, Charmaine Neville has spent her life performing in New Orleans and in other venues around the world. She was a staple at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro on Frenchmen Street for more than 40 years.
Then along came the coronavirus pandemic, and life as she knew it changed. Neville’s source of income, like so many other musicians, was completely cut off.
“There are very few musicians in New Orleans who are independently wealthy,” she said. “All of us have been struggling since Day 1.”
For more than a year she struggled. Then, as spring slowly turned into summer, the number of COVID-19 cases declined. The places that survived the pandemic slowly reopened their doors. Concerts were rescheduled.
Hope was beginning to peer over the horizon.
Then as summer hit full stride, the delta variant emerged to disrupt the music scene once again.
“It’s more deadly and more contagious,” said Neville, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March 2020 and still feels its effects. “It’s really frightening to think, ‘Here we go again.’”
And just when it seemed nothing else could happen to make things worse, Hurricane Ida showed up, knocking out power, flooding entire towns and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
While New Orleans fared better than some of the other areas, more than 1 million customers were without electricity.
“Hurricane Ida came along and wiped out much of the progress made toward getting the city’s musicians back to work,” Neville said. “COVID had shut down all the clubs already.
“I’ve survived many things, but to think this storm came and disrupted everybody’s lives on top of a pandemic — we’re already out of work — clubs would open, then they’d close. Then they’d open and they’d close. It’s been rough.”
Nungesser said the economy was doing better in Louisiana with a staycation program in which Louisianans are encouraged to vacation at places in the state to support local communities in the state.
“That’s worked great the last couple years, it really has,” Nungesser said.
He also said he is working to find a way to get musicians get back on their feet by attempting to secure additional funding to help venues get grants to hire local musicians so they can get back to work.
“That isn’t rolled out yet,” he said.
Neville said she is fully vaccinated and ready to get back to work — if the blows would just stop coming.
“It’s scary. It’s very scary,” she said. “It’s hard to circumvent certain things — you don’t have food. You don’t have water. You don’t have companionship. … New Orleans is the biggest little neighborhood in the whole wide world. We love everybody. We want you to come here and enjoy what we have.”
Follow Lici Beveridge on Twitter: @licibev