No money or gas to run away from Ida

Robert Owens felt defeated and helpless on Sunday as he waited in the Louisiana capital for one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States.

The 27-year-old had spent anxious days watching long lines of cars evacuate from Baton Rouge, bound for safer locations out of state as Hurricane Ida approached. He had hoped that he and his wife, mother-in-law, roommate and four pets would be among them. But leaving would have required money for gas and a hotel room, which they didn’t have.

In desperation, Owens went to ACE Cash Express on Saturday and submitted paperwork for a payday loan. He was turned down, after being told he didn’t have enough credit history.

On Sunday, it was clear they would weather the storm at home in his family’s duplex apartment.

“Our bank account is empty – we cannot afford to leave,” he said.

Owens said the majority of residents in his low-income neighborhood are in the same situation. They want to leave to protect their family, but have no choice but to stay.

“A lot of us here in my neighborhood just have to hunker down and wait, not knowing how much worse things are going to get. It’s a terrifying feeling,” he said.

“There people who have funds to fall back on can get out of here, but there are a lot of low-income people who don’t have savings accounts to fall back on,” he said. he continued. “We are left behind.

He said the area was eerily quiet on Sunday as the winds picked up and rain began to fall.

Owens said he spent the day hastily placing towels under leaky windows in his duplex and charging electronic devices. He tried to go to Dollar General and Dollar Tree to get some food, but they were closed. Her family has lights taped around the walls of the house. They planned to hide in the laundry room or kitchen when the storm hit – places with no windows.

“There is a general feeling of fear of not knowing what the consequences of this will be,” he said. “That’s the most worrying thing. Like, what are we going to do if it gets really bad? Will we still be alive? Will a tree fall on us?

Owens said her stepmother was on disability. His roommate both works for Apple iOS tech support. His wife works to schedule blood donations. All rely on the internet to work from home, and if it goes out, they won’t be able to bring in any money.

“We could be out of work, and rent, electricity, water, all those bills will still have to be paid,” he said. “We’re a bit worried about losing our utilities or even our house – if it’s still standing – because we won’t have the money for other bills.”

He said it was hard to feel so vulnerable, like his family was being left behind.

“The fact that we’re not middle class or above keeps coming back to bite us again and again, in so many different directions and ways – a simple payday advance being one of them” , did he declare. “It’s like we have to pay to be poor, even if we try not to be poor.”

Leah Willingham is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.