In Ida’s aftermath, no quick relief in sight for Louisiana
Louisiana residents still reeling from flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Ida scrambled Wednesday for food, gas, water and relief from the sweltering heat as thousands of line workers toiled to restore electricity and officials vowed to set up more sites where people could get free meals and cool off.
There was a glimmer of hope when power company Entergy announced its crews had turned power on for parts of eastern New Orleans, but did not specify how many homes and businesses had lights. Still, power and water outages affected hundreds of thousands of people, many of them with no way to get immediate relief.
"I don’t have a car. I don’t have no choice but to stay," said Charles Harris, 58, as he looked for a place to eat Tuesday in a New Orleans neighborhood where Ida snapped utility poles and brought down power lines.
Harris had no access to a generator and said the heat was starting to wear him down. New Orleans and the rest of the region were under a heat advisory, with forecasters saying the high temperatures and humidity could make it feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday.
New Orleans officials announced seven places around the city where people could get a meal and sit in air conditioning. The city was also using 70 transit buses as cooling sites and was to have drive-thru food, water and ice distribution locations set up on Wednesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. Distribution locations were also being set up in other parts of the state, the governor said.
Ida was the fifth most powerful storm to strike the U.S. when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph (240 kph). The hurricane likely caused $50 billion or more in total damage, Karen Clark of the risk modeling company Karen Clark and Company told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The mayor estimated about half of New Orleans’ population evacuated before Ida struck. Those remaining worked to slowly restore a sense of order. In parts of the city, flags hung from dangling power lines to help drivers avoid them. In one neighborhood, someone decorated the downed lines with strands of tinsel in an echo of Mardi Gras.
City crews removing debris from roads and cutting up fallen trees had some streets almost completely cleared, while others remained cluttered with obstacles.
A few corner stores were open. Many were taking cash only, though some had working ATM machines. In many areas, National Guard soldiers or law enforcement stood posted at pharmacies and gas stations, where drivers waited in long lines for fuel.
A nighttime curfew in New Orleans took effect Tuesday in an effort to prevent crime. Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said there had been some arrests for stealing.
Though some lights were back on Wednesday, a statement from power company Entergy said reconnecting all of New Orleans "will still take time given the significant damage" to the city’s power grid.
The company said it was looking to first restore power to "critical infrastructure" such as hospitals, nursing homes and first responders.
The number of deaths from the hurricane climbed to at least five in Louisiana and Mississippi when Jefferson Parish authorities confirmed a woman was found dead in her home in the community of Lafitte. Jefferson Parish sheriff’s Capt. Jason Rivarde said the woman was found during rescue operations Monday. He gave no further details.
The dead include two people killed Monday night when seven vehicles plunged into a 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) hole near Lucedale, Mississippi, where a highway had collapsed after torrential rains. Among them was construction worker Kent Brown, a "well-liked" 49-year-old father of two, his brother Keith Brown said. Gov. John Bel Edwards said he expects the death toll to rise.
Hopes that the New Orleans airport would reopen Wednesday were short-lived, with airport officials saying in a statement plans to resume limited flights had been pushed back to Thursday. The airport has been closed since the storm hit.
Ida caused massive flooding and structural damage in Houma, LaPlace and other communities outside New Orleans.
The barrier island of Grand Isle, which bore Ida’s full fury, is "uninhabitable," with every building damaged, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told a news conference. There were also numerous breaks in the levee system and a strong odor of natural gas, she said.
More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi were left without power when Ida slammed the electric grid, toppling a major transmission tower and knocking out thousands of miles of lines and hundreds of substations.
An estimated 25,000-plus utility workers labored to restore electricity, but officials said it could take weeks.
Kisha Brown, a medical receptionist who rode out the storm with her two daughters at her apartment, was among hundreds of people who turned to one of the sites in New Orleans distributing free meals. She lost power and said her food supply was dwindling. Her other main concern was the heat.
"My last resort would probably be to go to the hospital," she said. "They’ll let me in if I show my ID."
Other residents relied on generators, raising safety concerns. Paramedics took 12 people — five adults and seven children — from a single home to hospitals Wednesday to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, New Orleans Emergency Medical Services said in a statement. Officials pleaded with people to keep generators outdoors and away from open windows.
About 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of the city in the town of LaPlace, Enola Vappie and her sons sat in her carport hoping to catch a breeze as the temperature inside her damaged home creeped up without power to run air conditioning.
Vappie, 78, was one of about 441,000 people statewide without water after flooding and power outages crippled treatment plants. She was thinking about what she’ll do when it comes back.
"I can’t wait to have a good bubble bath," she said. "I might live in that tub."