Hurricane Ida Leaves Residents without Power Amid Punishing Heat

The winds and rain from Hurricane Ida have passed, but the devastation wreaked by the storm weighs on every aspect of life here.

Source: WSJ | Published on September 1, 2021

Trash and debris outside of Houston homes devastated after Hurricane Harvey

Schools are closed indefinitely. Officials say power will be out for up to a month. Cell service is spotty, and hospitals already burdened by Covid-19 are relying on generators and water reserves since water and sewer outages are widespread.

Roads are blocked, stores are closed and the heat is punishing, with the National Weather Service issuing a heat advisory Tuesday and Wednesday for southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, with a heat index up to 106 degrees.

More than 20,000 lineworkers are repairing the electricity grid, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday. The governor said he is in regular communication with power providers, pressing them to restore electricity as quickly as possible.

“I’m worried about it because that’s how we run our hospitals, too, and our hospitals are full,” he said, in a Tuesday news conference. “We have so many other things that are just critically important.”

He urged people who had evacuated to stay put for now because of the lack of basic services, from running water to air-conditioning.

Ida has killed at least four people, and Mr. Edwards has said he expects more deaths. Two people died late Monday in coastal Mississippi after driving into a massive sinkhole after a highway collapsed, according to the state’s Highway Patrol. Another 10 people were injured, three critically. In Louisiana, one person was killed by a fallen tree, and another drowned while driving through floodwaters.

The St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s office said it is investigating a possible fatal alligator attack related to the storm, after a woman in Slidell said her husband was attacked and apparently killed while wading in floodwaters.

Ida made landfall Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane near Port Fourchon, La., south of New Orleans. Winds topped 150 miles an hour, sending more than 20 barges loose in the Mississippi River, toppling an electricity tower and downing cypress and live oak trees.

Roughly 582,000 people safely and smoothly evacuated from New Orleans and the surrounding parishes in the three days before the storm, according to a tweet from Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation, who cited an analysis of cellphone and other auto technology ping data. It isn’t clear how many people rode out the storm —the metro population is about 1 million, according to the census.

Many people who stayed in town wandered the streets Tuesday, seeking out ice, food and cash, as credit cards were unusable. The ice had melted, many restaurants were closed and many ATMs were drained. The weather was muggy with little wind, and mosquitoes were suddenly prevalent after being scarce during the storm.

Sylvana Marcello, toting her dachshund mix in a bag and wearing a New Orleans Saints T-shirt, went to Igor’s Bar & Grill near the Garden District in search of hot food. The storm had been harrowing. “It was just so scary, the sound of it,” she said.

“We’ve talked about escape routes if this goes on too long,” she said, but were put off by crowded roadways. “If we can’t take it much longer, I’m thinking of heading to Pensacola, Florida, checking into a hotel, and just enjoying the beach.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city was focused on providing assistance for those who hadn’t evacuated. Officials were setting up meal-distribution sites and cooling centers with air-conditioning and charging stations around the city starting on Tuesday, she said.

More than 3,600 Federal Emergency Management Agency employees were deployed to Louisiana, Mississippi and neighboring states to support relief efforts, the agency said. Thirteen urban search and rescue teams were working in Louisiana, as well as Army Corps of Engineers power-restoration teams. Supplies including 3.4 million meals, 2.4 million liters of water and 35,700 tarps, were pre-positioned in the region ahead of the storm.

The Louisiana National Guard has more than 5,100 service members activated and, with the help of high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters, was conducting search-and-rescue operations. As of Tuesday morning, that effort rescued 359 people across five parishes. Trucks stocked with food and supplies were staged in Tangipahoa Parish, north of New Orleans, and the National Guard planned to set up at least nine distribution sites on Tuesday in affected areas.

Analytics firm CoreLogic Inc. estimated that 515,952 homes were affected by Ida’s winds, compared with Hurricane Katrina, which affected 792,824 homes. This may partly be because the storm hit a less populated area than Katrina, according to the firm.

There were more than one million people without power in Louisiana and roughly 45,000 in Mississippi on Tuesday, according to, which tracks outage reports from utilities.

More than 650,000 customers in Louisiana lacked water as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, and another 300,000 were under boil-water advisories, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. About 3,000 customers in coastal Mississippi had boil-water alerts, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

In New Orleans, nearly all sewer pumping stations lost power, creating the potential for backups, according to the city’s Sewerage and Water Board. The utility relied on generators to start powering the stations back up, and meanwhile, it asked residents to limit water usage.

Ida arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region. Since Katrina, a $14.5 billion flood-protection system—including flood walls, levees, canals and barriers constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—has helped bolster storm defenses around New Orleans.

State officials said they were pleased that the flood-protection system around New Orleans appears to be working as intended, and they were hopeful the surrounding areas would get some relief as floodwaters were receding more quickly than expected.

Officials warned residents of Jefferson Parish, which encompasses suburbs west and south of New Orleans, that it could be 21 days before power is restored. They also say it could be five days until the water and sewer system is up and running again, prompting many residents who rode out the storm to pack up and leave, some to stay with family members out of state and others in search of hotel rooms hours from the city. Traffic on Interstates 10 and 59 east of the city was predominantly one way Tuesday, with vehicles of people fleeing the city, some with gas tanks, clothing and children’s bikes strapped to the back.

n LaPlace, a town of 30,000 people just west of the flood-protection system’s boundary, there was flooding on many of the streets, with power lines and utility poles blocking the way. A church had partially collapsed, part of its facade peeled off to show the interior.

Jaclyn Hotard, president of St. John the Baptist Parish, the governmental district that includes LaPlace, said 800 parish residents had been rescued from their houses in the storm’s aftermath.

Timothy Dennis, a 49-year-old landscaper, took his bike out to hunt for water. Mr. Dennis said they had no access to information, no idea when rescue supplies might arrive and no water coming from the faucet.

“Katrina wasn’t even this bad here, not to me,” he said. “Lots of people I know got stranded. I feel devastated. I just can’t express it. I need at least the water to come back on.”