Hurricane Season: What It’s Like to Be Displaced From Your Home As a Teen

(Hurricane Ida flooding in Wilmington, September 2, 2021 | Army National Guard photos by Spc. Alyssa Lisenbe)
In this reported feature, a Louisiana high schooler talks to peers who have been displaced by hurricanes.

This article was commissioned in partnership with Teen Vogue, where it was originally published.

Isabelle Armand and her family drove north to her uncle’s house in Cut Off, Louisiana, seeking safety from Hurricane Ida. But there was no safety to be found.

As the storm’s 150 mph winds ripped into her home a short drive south, shingles also flew through the windows of her uncle’s house and the roof began leaking, exposing Isabelle and her family to sheets of rain that swept indoors. Everyone crowded into corners, attempting to shield themselves from all the water.

“I don’t want to be scared of weather,” Isabelle, 17, tells Teen Vogue. “I like my rain to fall asleep to. I like all of that. But I was scared.”

As weather emergencies like Ida increase, vulnerable populations — including children and teens, who don’t always get a say in where they live — are particularly exposed to the trauma of that rising tide.

Isabelle is from Grand Isle, roughly a seven-mile long barrier island situated in the Gulf of Mexico, connected to the rest of Louisiana by a single causeway bridge. Grand Isle is known for its fishing habitats, diverse wildlife, and beaches. Hurricanes frequently batter the island, and after Ida made landfall on August 29, 2021 — the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landfall — the town was deemed “uninhabitable” by local officials.

Isabelle’s house suffered minor damage, such as a few boards that came up on the porch, but she says it was nothing like the devastation some other buildings suffered. Jefferson Parish president Cynthia Lee Sheng declared that in Grand Isle, considered to be the town hit hardest by Ida, 100% of structures sustained damage and 40% were nearly destroyed. 

Grand Isle School, the island’s only school, serves pre-K through 12th-grade students. But due to damage, the school didn’t open until March 2022, leaving Isabelle and other students to learn virtually for nearly six months.

Because of the storm damage, Isabelle had to stay in nearby Baton Rouge for about two months before returning home. “My senior year had come along, and I was excited to get back to normalcy [after pandemic isolation] and finally be back in school,” she recalls. “That was for about two weeks, and then [Ida] hit.”

Mark VanLandingham, director of the Center for Studies of Displaced Populations at Tulane University in New Orleans, believes that one of the biggest effects of storms is how they undermine individuals’ confidence in the future. For teens who have been through past hurricanes, new storms can add another layer of trauma and anxiety. 

Adolescents are already going through a major transitional phase in life, so every new setback and trauma hits harder. “It’s hard enough for an adolescent to get through the normal year,” VanLandingham says. “You’ve got COVID first, which makes everything very difficult, but then Ida on top of it.”

Before Ida hit, but after hanging out with some friends who had just recovered from COVID, Jarris Folse, 17, started feeling possible symptoms. But Jarris didn’t even have a chance to get tested because he was swept up in storm prep, which typically involves fighting through busy grocery store lines for water, batteries, candles, and nonperishable foods. 

A few days before the storm arrived, Jarris and his family evacuated their home in Raceland and went to his uncle’s house just outside of Lafayette. Jarris’s home didn’t sustain much damage, but many buildings in Raceland did. And nobody knew when his school, Central Lafourche High, would be fully repaired. So Jarris decided to transfer temporarily to Lafayette High, over 100 miles away, until his school reopened.

“It was stressful because I had a lot of friends [at Central Lafourche High],” Jarris, currently a junior, recalls. “They were like, ‘No, we should just ride this out together. We’re supposed to be a big family.’”

Before he started school in Lafayette, Jarris contacted a friend there, someone he had met through Snapchat and Instagram, and told her he was transferring. After he connected with her large friend group and joined the school band, he found it easier to integrate socially. Despite some initial challenges while adjusting, Jarris says it didn’t take long for things to feel normal — especially since he made frequent trips to visit his friends in his hometown.

But due to the schedule gap that Hurricane Ida had created, Jarris found he was behind compared with other students at Lafayette High. In his chemistry class, for example, his peers were four chapters ahead of him. “It was a lot of extra work on my end,” he recalls.

About four months after Ida, Jarris transferred back to Central Lafourche High. He still keeps in contact with some of his friends from Lafayette on social media and visits them when possible. “The hardest change has been juggling my old relationships with friends versus new ones,” he says. But ultimately, the transfer experience gave him perspective on his social life: “It’s important for people to really think about how important their friends are in their life.”

Originally from Honduras, Destenin, 15, is a student at Las Sierras, a yearlong English immersion program for students who have recently immigrated to the United States. Destenin had been in New Orleans for only one month before a tree fell on her home during Hurricane Ida, leaving her family without power and water.

Hector, 18, another Las Sierras student who started there around the same time as Destenin, emigrated from Mexico less than a year ago. (Both students have asked Teen Vogue to use only their first names; these interviews have been translated from Spanish by a social worker.) 

Ahead of Ida, Hector evacuated New Orleans for Houston with his father, returning four days later to a city that was left without gas, water, and electricity for weeks. It took a whole month for Las Sierras to reopen. Until then, Hector and his father went around the city looking to help with clean-up efforts.

Hector found that many stores in his area had shut down after the storm, except for a McDonald’s and a market that caters to the Latinx population. “It felt horrible to come back to New Orleans,” Hector said of his new city. “I didn’t want to be there.”

But Destenin, Hector, and their peers at Las Sierras are determined not to let this set them back. “We feel united,” Destenin says resolutely. “We are all still trying to learn English and reach this goal together.”

Maurya Glaude is a professor at Tulane’s School of Social Work with an expertise in disaster mental health and school social work. Through her private practice, she also counsels teens and parents of teens for symptoms of anxiety, depression, poor adjustment, and grief.

In the wake of Ida and COVID, Glaude has seen requests for private appointments and school social work services significantly increase. Glaude tells Teen Vogue that her clients who are parents say they’ve seen their kids develop worse sleep habits and experience sharp academic declines. 

Glaude also links Ida with an increase in anxiety levels. “Kids may not have stability in knowing where they’re going to sleep, where they’re going to be educated, when they’re going to have time with their peers,” she explains. “It really creates a perfect storm for social anxiety.”

As hurricane season gets longer and more intense each year, Glaude says, affected areas will need to step up their mental health services. Glaude points to Ida as just one layer of the compounded trauma faced by this generation of teens in Southern Louisiana. She emphasizes that teens in the region were born between 2005-2009, and the stress of loss and restoration after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike has impacted them from an early age.

“If we don’t take the information we currently have and be proactive by addressing the potential negative impacts on academics, emotions, and socialization,” Glaude says, “we are going to have more children with anxiety or children experiencing depression, hopelessness, etc.”

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida on the horizon, Grand Isle continues to work toward recovery. Isabelle thinks life on the island feels different. “You start to lose motivation and sight of just, ‘Why?’” Isabelle says. “It comes to a point when you’re like, ‘I am tired of doing this. I just want things to go back to normal.’”

After Ida, her school’s enrollment dropped from 135 to 64 students in grades pre-K through 12. Isabelle used to play basketball, run cross country, and do cheerleading, but the school doesn’t have enough people for sports teams anymore. “It’s not the same,” she says. “One girl in my class — we grew up together. Like, we fit. We started in pre-K and ever since we’ve been friends. And now she’s virtual. She’s not here, and it’s just hard.”

Hurricane Ida has been a major obstacle for the people and infrastructure of southeast Louisiana, but Isabelle refuses to let the storm stop her from achieving her goals. She plans to attend Southeastern Louisiana University in the fall to study biological sciences on her path to becoming a veterinarian. “Throughout [the disruptions from Ida], I’ve always had my plan,” she says. “To get through with my good grades, keep my GPA high, and get through with my plan. That’s all I got left to hope for.”