More than a million people were still without power in Louisiana on Tuesday morning, two days after Hurricane Ida crashed into the state’s coast as an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm. Louisiana communities are now facing the prospect of no electricity for weeks, the Associated Press reports. Ida caused “catastrophic” wind damage and flooding in some areas and continues to deposit heavy rainfall. The full order of damage became apparent on Monday when dawn broke over a blacked-out region. Firms are estimating the storm could have racked upwards of $15 billion worth of damages. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has declared a presidential major disaster declaration to free up resources for rescue and recovery. Below are updates about Ida’s impact.
Some in New Orleans Get Power Back Amid Heat Wave
A swath of residents in Eastern New Orleans had power restored Tuesday night, a welcome relief after Hurricane Ida knocked electricity out to the entire city when it swept through on Sunday.
It isn’t clear when the rest of the city’s lights will be turned on — Entergy, the power company serving New Orleans, has said it may take weeks — and the majority of residents remain in the dark. The forecast for the next few days calls for temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s, along with high humidity. Beyond the lack of power and accompanying rotting food in refrigerators, many New Orleanians are dealing with a lack of potable water and a gas shortage. The city has set up several cooling sites for those struggling in the heat.
Weeks before power is fully restored
With all eight transmission lines feeding New Orleans knocked down by Ida, restoring power to the hardest-hit residents of the city of 390,000 is going to be a tremendous lift for the local utility company, Entergy, and the state and federal workers aiding the effort. According to the Associated Press, over 11,000 Entergy workers and 25,000 others deployed from throughout the U.S are working to assess the damage and restore power. According to PowerOutage.US, over 1 million customers in Louisiana were still without electricity on Tuesday, as well as almost 44,000 in Mississippi. In Jefferson Parish — which includes the areas immediately south and east of New Orleans — councilman-at-large Ricky Templet said power could be out for three to four weeks. Officials in St. Charles Parish further east of New Orleans said that power could be out for a month.
Governor John Bel Edwards has described the damage as “catastrophic,” and as of Monday, over 2,000 miles of transmission lines were down. In a press conference on Tuesday, Edwards told those who evacuated: “Many of the life supporting infrastructure elements are not present, are not operating right now. Please don’t come home before they tell you that it’s time.” Amid the widespread power outages, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for southern Louisiana from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., where some will face a heat index of up to 105 degrees. According to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy, some 2 million people live in the area under the advisory. Temperatures in the high 80s are in the forecast for the next week in New Orleans.
Over 650 were rescued in Louisiana on Monday
A look at the damage along the coast
Aerial footage was shared on Monday afternoon. Port Fourchon, where Ida made landfall, is responsible for nearly 20% of the nation’s oil supply.
Now comes the heat
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, predicting a heat index of 105 degrees for those who rode out the storm. According to CNN, nearly 2 million people in the landfall area are under the heat advisory.
Biden holds virtual briefing on Ida
On Monday, President Joe Biden held a virtual briefing with FEMA and political leaders from some of the states that are currently coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, including Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards and Mississippi governor Tate Reeves. The president said that more than 5,000 members of the National Guard had been activated to assist in search-and-rescue efforts and added that FEMA had prepositioned meals and water in affected areas and deployed more than 200 generators into the region.
He added, “We’re gonna stand with you and the people of the Gulf for as long as it takes for you to recover.”
Louisiana governor expects death toll to “go up considerably”
As of Tuesday morning, the storm has been blamed for at least four deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, reports the Associated Press. (The fatality in Prairieville was the result of a fallen tree, according to CNN.) That confirms Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards suspicion during an interview on NBC’s Today on Monday – when there was just one death tied to Ida – that what he’s been hearing personally about the potential lives lost due to Ida “points to a lot more”
“I am certain that, as the day goes on, we will have more deaths,” Edwards said.
“We were getting calls for help. We know that, for example, some apartment buildings collapsed partially in certain areas. This happened during the height of the storm and there was no way to go out and respond to those calls,” Edwards said. “That’s happening now and we’re gonna be getting information throughout the day that I fully expect the confirmed death total to go up considerably.”
FEMA administrator: “This is going to be a really long recovery.”
FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell spoke on MSNBC Monday morning about the destruction left in the wake of Ida, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm. Criswell said initial reports mentioned “widespread structural damage” in addition to “significant” structural damage, including building collapses.
“We have over a million customers that are without power right now. We know that there have also been some reports of people calling 911 for assistance to get out of their threatened area,” Criswell said. “It’s gonna be significant and these are only the initial reports. We’re gonna see more soon as we get the assessment teams out there this morning.”
Regarding the massive power outage, Criswell said there are shelters set up across Louisiana and that FEMA is prepared to move people into hotels or consider other longer-term solutions as residents wait to safely return to their homes. She said there are also federal resources in place to support local first responders with search-and-rescue.
Criswell said the local power company has brought in at least 6,000 crews to help restore power and that crews from other states are coming to assist.
“We also have the Army Corp of Engineers that is ready to support power restoration through the generators for any critical facilities that might need that,” she said.
Though early reports have already spoken to considerable amounts of damage across Louisiana, Criswell believes the full extent will end up being much greater.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re gonna see more damage than what we probably initially projected. Not only was this a Category 4 storm, but it stayed a Category 4 storm for hours over southern parts of Louisiana,” Criswell said. “Having those high winds for several hours, the storm surge for several hours as well as the intense rainfall. I think as we get up this morning, we’re hearing reports, but we’re gonna see even more destruction.”
“This is going to be a really long recovery,” she said.
New Orleans plunged into darkness
All of Southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, is without power as major electric transmission lines into the region were severed by the storm, according to Governor John Bel Edwards. One transmission line reportedly fell into the Mississippi. The city’s 911 system is down and the only power available is being provided by generators.
The impact on Sunday
The 100-plus mile-an-hour winds and storm surge have already caused some tremendous damage in metro New Orleans. As of Sunday evening, at least 940,000 people were without power, including all of New Orleans, where several notable buildings have reportedly taken damage. According to the local CBS affiliate, the roofs have been torn off the New Orleans Traffic Court and New Orleans Municipal Court buildings. which is flowing . With the local electricity utility Entergy unable to provide power, the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans has stated that there may be a “significant” impact on sewer pumping stations in the city. Late on Sunday night, the National Weather Service issued a warning to residents of New Orleans:
Much of the damage will not be apparent until Monday morning, but harrowing stories (and calls for help on social media) are already being reported from areas hit by Ida. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Patients at Thibodaux Regional Health System in Lafourche Parish were bagged by hand, meaning hospital staff manually pushed air in and out of their lungs in place of mechanical ventilation.” According to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, one person was killed by a fallen tree in a suburb of Baton Rouge.
A visual example of the power of Ida’s winds, from when it was still a Category 4:
Here’s footage of the storm surge in Grand Isle, Louisiana:
And in Delacroix, an island in St. Bernard Parish southeast of New Orleans:
The latest forecast
At 11:55 a.m. central time, Ida made landfall at Category 4 strength near Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Ida came ashore with maximum sustained winds of 150-mph. It then made a second landfall at 2 p.m., still as a Category 4, near Galliano, southwest of New Orleans. Even hours after making landfall, the storm has kept its structure and most of its intensity, before finally weakening to a Category 3 storm early Sunday evening.
Ida was forecast to produce a life threatening 8 foot storm surge or higher in some areas:
Ida is also also expected to produce heavy rainfall, particularly as it slows over land, with the threat of flash and urban flooding across much of Louisiana and Mississippi. Some areas of coastal Louisiana may receive 15 to 20 inches of rainfall or more.
On Saturday night, the National Weather Service in New Orleans sent out a very dire public information statement for any residents who hadn’t yet left mandatory evacuation zones along the coast:
Please understand this, there is the possibility that conditions could be unlivable along the coast for some time and areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge could be without power for weeks. We have all seen the destruction and pain caused by Harvey, Michael, and Laura. Anticipate devastation on this level and if it doesn’t happen then we should all count our blessings. Please again, if you have the means to leave, and you are 1 in a mandatory or voluntary evacuation zone, LEAVE; 2 are in a very flood prone area, LEAVE, 3 are uncomfortable and have trees around your house, LEAVE. Do not play around and say “I’ve been through Andrew/Camille/Katrina/Betsy” all storms are different.
The threat to infrastructure and industrial sites
Ida poses a significant threat to several important industries, as Jeff Masters and Bob Henson explain at Yale Climate Connections:
Ida is predicted to track over one of the most critical industrial areas in the U.S.: the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Not only is the region home to dozens of key petrochemical sites, and crisscrossed by important pipelines, it also has three of the fifteen largest ports in America: the largest bulk cargo port in the world, the Port of South Louisiana, which lies along a 54-mile stretch of the Mississippi River; the nation’s largest export grain port, the Port of New Orleans; and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, the nation’s 10th-largest port. These three ports handle 55-70% of all U.S. grain exports to the world, supplied by barges moving downriver.
Going upriver, Mississippi River barges transport petrochemicals, fertilizers, and raw materials essential for the functioning of U.S. industry and agriculture, making the Mississippi River the lifeblood of the American economy.
There is also a potential impact to hundreds of industrial sites which work with toxic chemicals. Nola.com points out that three previous hurricanes which hit the area resulted in oil and chemical releases, and reports that roughly two thirds of the industrial sites with toxic chemicals in Louisiana are in the hurricane’s current projected path:
A Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate analysis of industrial data and Ida’s predicted route through the state indicates 590 sites that produce or store toxic chemicals are harm’s way. Almost 380 of them are within 50 miles of the coast, putting them at particular risk from storm surge, strong winds and heavy rain, according to the analysis of sites listed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.
How the storm compares to Katrina
The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog highlight that while Ida may be more intense than Katrina, that doesn’t mean it will have the same impact on the New Orleans metro area:
[A]fter Katrina, a $14.5 billion flood-protection system was constructed around New Orleans that is expected to be much more effective in keeping storm waters from inundating the city. Katrina was also an enormous storm, which allowed it to push more water ashore. Ida is somewhat more compact, although it is predicted to expand some.
Ida made landfall as a smaller, but more powerful storm.
On Friday, Yale Climate Connections’ Jeff Masters and Bob Henson expressed cautious optimism that New Orleans’ flood-protection upgrades would be effective:
[The city’s Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS)] consists of a 139-mile system of levees, and walls and gates designed to protect against a 1-in-100-year storm surge, equivalent to what a category 3 hurricane would bring. The new flood defense system in 2012 underwent a stern test with Hurricane Isaac. Isaac was a large, slow-moving Category 1 storm with 80 mph winds that brought to New Orleans a storm surge characteristic of a Category 2 storm. A surge as high as 12-14 feet assaulted portions of the new levee system. The new flood defenses performed admirably, giving confidence that they can withstand the 15-foot storm surge that a 1-in-100-year category 3 hurricane might bring.
Louisiana is already facing a COVID storm
Louisiana has been one of the states worst hit by the Delta variant over the past two months. While the number of new cases has been dropping from their peak in recent weeks, hospitals in the state continue to struggle with severe cases. Because of the strain, New York Times reports that Louisiana hospitals have have not been able to complete their normal preparations for a storm of Ida’s magnitude:
Louisiana’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, asked residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to preserve the state’s hospital capacity, which has been vastly diminished by its most severe Covid surge of the pandemic. And while plans exist to transfer patients away from coastal areas to inland hospitals ahead of a hurricane, this time “evacuations are just not possible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference.
“The hospitals don’t have room,” he said. “We don’t have any place to bring those patients — not in state, not out of state.” The governor said officials had asked hospitals to check generators and stockpile more water, oxygen and personal protective supplies than usual for a storm.
This has been updated to include new details and reporting.