BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (KETK/KTAL) – Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards is expected to give a briefing on the state of rescue and recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which left a trail of devastation and more than 1 million customers without power in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans.
Officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid is repaired.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing as people remain trapped by floodwaters after one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland pushed through on Sunday and early Monday before weakening into a tropical storm.
Ida made landfall on Sunday, the same day 16 years earlier that Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, and its 150 mph winds tied it for the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the mainland.
The storm is was blamed for at least two deaths — a motorist who drowned in New Orleans, and a person hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge.
But with many roads impassable and cellphone service knocked out in places, the full extent of its fury was still coming into focus. Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said that given the level of destruction, “We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities.”
The governor’s office said damage to the power grid appeared “catastrophic” — dispiriting news for those left without refrigeration or air conditioning during the dog days of summer, with highs forecast in the mid-80s to close to 90 by midweek.
New Orleans police reported receiving numerous reports of stealing and said they made several arrests.
The city urged people who evacuated to stay away for at least a couple of days because of the lack of power and fuel. “There’s not a lot of reasons to come back,” said Collin Arnold, chief of emergency preparedness.
Also, 18 water systems serving about 255,000 customers in Louisiana were knocked out of service, the state Health Department said.
Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Officials said they were evacuating scores of patients to other cities.
The governor’s office said over 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of Monday morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. The governor’s spokesperson said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so that they can keep their distance from one another.
“This is a COVID nightmare,” Stephens said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”
Interstate 10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — the main east-west route along the Gulf Coast — was closed because of flooding, with the water reported to be 4 feet deep at one spot, officials said.
Preliminary measurements showed Slidell, Louisiana, got 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 high-water vehicles, 73 rescue boats and 34 helicopters. Local and state agencies were adding hundreds of more.
Emergency officials had not heard from Grand Isle since Sunday afternoon. About 40 people stayed on the barrier island, which took the brunt of the hurricane and was swamped by seawater, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said.
The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant tower that carries key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area, causing widespread outages, 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.
The storm also flattened utility poles, brought trees down onto power lines and caused transformers to explode with flashes that lit up the night sky.
The governor said on Sunday that 30,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore electricity.
AT&T’s said its wireless network in Louisiana was reduced to 60% of normal. Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies. The governor’s office staff had no working phones. The company sent a mobile tower to the state’s emergency preparedness office so that it could get some service.
Charchar Chaffold left her home near LaPlace for Alabama after a tree fell on it on Sunday. She frantically tried to get in touch via text message with five family members who had stayed behind.
Ida’s 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland. Its winds were down to 40 mph (64 kph) around midday Monday.
In Mississippi’s southwestern corner, entire neighborhoods were surrounded by floodwaters, and many roads were impassable.
Ida was expected to pick up speed Monday night before dumping rain on the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys Tuesday, the Appalachian mountain region Wednesday and the nation’s capital on Thursday.
Forecasters said flash flooding and mudslides are possible along Ida’s path before it blows out to sea over New England on Friday.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)