Rescuers in high-water boats, helicopters and trucks carried hundreds of people trapped by flooding from Hurricane Ida to safety on Monday and utility repair crews rushed in after the raging storm flooded the Louisiana coast and devastated the power grid in the sweltering late summer heat. .
Residents who lived amid the maze of rivers and swamps along the state’s Gulf Coast desperately retreated to their attics or rooftops and posted their addresses on social media with instructions to search and rescue teams on where to find them. .
More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi, including all of New Orleans, were without power when Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the continental United States, advanced on Sunday.
The damage was so extensive that officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid is repaired.
As the storm downgraded to a tropical depression Monday afternoon and continued to move inland with torrential rains, it was credited with at least two deaths: a motorist who drowned in New Orleans and a person struck by a falling tree. on the outskirts of Baton Rouge.
‘We are going to have many more confirmed deaths’
But with many impassable roads and cell phone service in some places, the full scope of his fury was still coming into focus. Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said that given the level of destruction, “we will have many more confirmed deaths.”
The governor’s office said the damage to the power grid appeared “catastrophic,” discouraging news for those without refrigeration or air conditioning during the graying days of summer, with highs forecast in the mid-1980s to near-mid-90s. of week.
“Certainly there are more questions than answers. I can’t tell you when the power will be restored. I can’t tell you when all the debris will be cleared and repairs will be made, “Edwards said at a news conference.” But what I can tell you is that we are going to work hard every day to provide as much assistance as possible. “
Rescue efforts continue
Local, state and federal rescuers combined to save at least 671 people Monday afternoon, Edwards said.
In the hard-hit LaPlace, squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, rescuers saved people from flooded homes in a near-constant operation.
Debbie Greco, her husband and son weathered the storm at LaPlace with Greco’s parents. The water reached a foot through the first floor windows, then filled the first floor up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) deep once the back door was opened. They retreated to the second floor, but then strong winds brought down the roof as the waves crashed into the front yard.
They were finally rescued by boat after waiting in the only dry place, five people sharing the landing on the stairs.
“When I rebuild this, I’ll get out of here. I’m done with Louisiana, ”said Greco’s father, Fred Carmouche, 85, a lifelong resident.
In other parts of LaPlace, people dumped pieces of chimneys, gutters and other parts of their houses onto the sidewalk, and residents of a mobile home park fought their way through the floodwaters.
Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina
The hurricane made landfall on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 storm that breached New Orleans’ levees, devastated the city and was blamed for 1,800 deaths.
This time, New Orleans appeared to escape the catastrophic flooding that city officials feared.
Stephanie Blaise returned home with her father in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans after evacuating. The neighborhood suffered devastating flooding in Katrina, but only lost a few tiles in Ida. However, with no idea when the power would be restored, Blaise didn’t plan to stay long.
“We don’t need to go through that. I’m going to have to convince him to leave. We have to go somewhere. I can’t stay in this heat, ”he said.
The city urged people who were evacuated to stay away for at least a couple of days due to lack of power and fuel. “There aren’t many reasons to go back,” said Collin Arnold, emergency preparedness chief.
In addition, 18 water systems serving about 255,000 customers in Louisiana were taken out of service, the state Department of Health said.
‘This is a COVID nightmare’
Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Authorities said they were evacuating dozens of patients to other cities.
The climate disaster hit a state where hospitals are overflowing with COVID patients, Delta variant cases are on the rise and nurses are in short supply.
The governor’s office said more than 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters, a number expected to increase as people are rescued or escape from flooded homes. The governor’s spokesman said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so they can stay away from each other.
“This is a COVID nightmare,” Stephens said, adding, “We anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”
Preliminary measurements showed Slidell, Louisiana, received at least 15.7 inches of rain, while New Orleans received nearly 14 inches, forecasters said. Other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, Alabama and Florida got 5 to 11 inches.
The Louisiana National Guard said it activated 4,900 Guard personnel and lined up 195 offshore vehicles, 73 rescue boats and 34 helicopters. State and local agencies were adding hundreds more. Edwards said he decided not to tour the hurricane’s damage by air Monday to add one more aircraft to the effort.
On Grand Isle, the 40 people who stayed on the barrier island during the worst part of the hurricane gave a go-ahead to the aircraft checking them Monday, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.
The road to the island remains impassable and rescuers will try to reach them as soon as they can, the sheriff said.
The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant tower carrying key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area, causing widespread blackouts, Entergy and local authorities said. The power company said more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service, along with 216 substations. The tower had survived Katrina.
Ongoing efforts to restore electricity
The storm also crushed utility poles, downed trees on power lines and caused transformers to explode.
The governor said 25,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore power, with more on the way. “We are going to pressure Entergy to restore power as soon as possible,” Edwards said.
AT&T said its wireless network in Louisiana was down to 60% of normal, but it was making a comeback. Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies. The governor’s office staff did not have working telephones. The company sent a mobile tower to the state’s emergency preparedness office so it could get some service.
Charchar Chaffold left her home near LaPlace for Alabama after a tree fell on her Sunday. She desperately tried to text five family members who were left behind.
He last heard from them on Sunday night. They were in the attic after the water got into their house. “They told me they thought they were going to die. I said no and asked for help, “he said.
Ida’s 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the continent. Its winds dropped to 40 mph (64 kph) around noon Monday.
In the southwestern corner of Mississippi, entire neighborhoods were surrounded by flooding and many roads were impassable. Several tornadoes were reported, including a suspected tornado in Saraland, Alabama, that ripped off part of a motel roof and overturned an 18-wheeler, injuring the driver, according to the National Weather Service.
Ida was expected to accelerate Monday night before dumping rain over the Tennessee and Ohio river valleys on Tuesday, the mountainous Appalachian region on Wednesday and the nation’s capital on Thursday.
Forecasters said flash floods and landslides are possible along the Ida Trail before it goes out to sea over New England on Friday.