Louisiana starts recovery from Hurricane Ida with limited power, phone service

By: - August 30, 2021 6:33 pm

Vehicles are damaged after the front of a building collapsed during Hurricane Ida on Aug. 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ida made landfall earlier in the day southwest of New Orleans. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Louisiana citizens started to dig themselves out of the wreckage left by Hurricane Ida Monday while dealing with widespread power failures, sewerage system outages and downed mobile phone service across much of the southeastern region of the state

Some of the parishes most affected by the powerful storm — including New Orleans — didn’t have functioning 911 services Monday morning. Louisiana government officials and first responders were even having difficulty communicating with each other. Gov. John Bel Edwards said 25,000 linemen were already in the state working to restore electricity with thousands more on the way, but  1.1 million homes and businesses remained without power.

Packing sustained winds of 150 miles per hour for a “a long period of time’’ when it came ashore, Ida was one of the strongest storms to ever hit the United States when it made landfall Sunday. With reports of gusts as strong as 170 to 180 miles per hour, Edwards said it was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Louisiana since before the Civil War.

“This wreaks havoc on infrastructure and that includes the electric grid,’’ the governor said at a Monday afternoon press conference. “There are eight transmission lines that feed the New Orleans area. All of them failed.’’

Most state government workers get cell phone service through the AT&T network, which wasn’t functioning in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and some other areas affected by the hurricane Monday.

By the middle of the day Monday, the state had reported two deaths as a result of Hurricane Ida, though officials expect that number to increase significantly as recovery efforts continued throughout the day. 

“Saving lives is the No. 1 priority,’’ Edwards said.

How to get help from FEMA

Residents affected by Hurricane Ida can now apply for individual and household assistance from FEMA, Edwards said. 

President Joe Biden approved Edwards’ request for a major disaster declaration Sunday night.  Nearly 18,000 people already have signed up.

Residents are encouraged to apply for FEMA aid if they live in one of the impacted parishes: Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.

To apply, visit disasterassistance.gov or call the FEMA Helpline at 1.800.621.3362  and TTY 1.800.462.7585.

One bright spot was provided by the relatively new hurricane protection system that encompasses Orleans and parts of Jefferson, St. Charles, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. The floodgates and levees held up and prevented massive flooding. Hurricane Ida was the first real test of this network, which was constructed for billions of dollars following Hurricane Katrina.

“Our levee systems performed extremely well,’’ Edwards said. A preliminary damage assessment found that no levees breached or failed but a few smaller levees overtopped resulting in some flooding of homes, he said. 

But parts of the state immediately outside of the flood protection area did not fare well. Several communities along the Louisiana coast were devastated with roofs blown off homes and historic buildings. Port Fourchon — which is a hub for the oil and gas industry — has suffered considerable damage, officials said. Jefferson Parish officials lost contact with the few people who stayed on Grand Isle, a popular fishing and vacation spot that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico, for several hours. 

Coastal towns also weren’t the only ones significantly impacted. Communities directly to the north of the hurricane protection system that surround New Orleans were inundated with flooding. Residents from St. John Parish sent pleas out over social media early on Monday morning — while it was still dark — asking for rescue from their homes. 

Louisiana’s 5,000 National Guard troops will soon be joined by additional troops from 13 other states in the coming days, the governor said. The Louisiana guard was responsible for rescuing 191 citizens and 27 pets across Jefferson, Orleans and St. John the Baptist parishes and conducted helicopter hoist-and-lift operations in LaPlace and Jean Lafitte, Edwards said.

Meanwhile buses evacuated 400 people to shelters around the state. About 2,000 people are staying in 36 shelters across the state.

Government officials in areas devastated by the hurricane — including New Orleans — asked residents who relocated before the storm not to return to their homes yet. Power could be out in some of Louisiana’s most populous parishes, like Orleans and Jefferson, for weeks.

One ongoing concern is the hospital network in southeast Louisiana. The state’s largest health care network, Ochsner Health, has evacuated three of its hospitals. Patients in St. Charles Hospital in Luling, St. Anne in Raceland and Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma had to be transferred to other facilities after parts of the hospitals’ roofs blew off and windows shattered. 

Terrebonne General Medical System — which is not part of the Ochsner system — has also been evacuated. The facility has had significant roof damage, which has caused rainwater to pour into the hospital. 

Dina Lewis rescues items from her home in Laplace, Louisiana. The community was hit hard by Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Sunday as a Category 4 storm. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Edwards has said that evacuating several larger hospitals is not necessarily an option following Ida. Hospitals across the South — including Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi — are full because of the COVID-19 pandemic and can’t take in a large influx of hurricane evacuees.

“I would say every facility we have has had some sort of roof issue and we have water intrusion,” said Warner Thomas, the chief executive officer of Ochsner Health. 

Other Ochsner facilities — including one in Kenner — experienced problems with their generators during and after the hurricane. In large parts of south Louisiana, the hospitals have lost access to running water as well, and are relying on water reserves they stored before the hurricane.

“More fuel is on its way. Water is on its way. These are things we planned for,” Warner said.

But there are also concerns about whether hospital staff can live in New Orleans and the surrounding area if the power is out for weeks. Ochsner said it is not able to put employees up in hotels in southeastern Louisiana, because the hotels also don’t have access to power and water.

Edwards noted that there were 18 water system outages in the region affecting 312,000 people and 14 boil water advisories impacting 329,000 people.

“It’s pretty clear that if you have evacuated now is not the time to return unless and until your parish informs you that it’s OK to do so,’’ Edwards said. “Businesses aren’t open. Stores aren’t open. Schools aren’t open. And quite frankly we need to put as little demand on our water systems and on our electric grid as possible.’’

The governor implored residents to be patient.

“Be a good neighbor. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Reach out to the elderly couple next door across the road,’’ Edwards said. “Make sure to the extent that you can you’re checking on family members who may be elderly or have special needs. There are an awful lot of unknowns right now. There are certainly more questions than answers…

“I know a lot of people out there are tired. Sometimes this can be too much to bear. It’s a lot to deal with,’’ the governor said. “But I know the people of our state are stronger than the strongest of storms. Our spirit is unbreakable. And we’re going to embark on this road to recovery together.’’





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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.