Capital Weather Gang
The path of Hurricane Ida
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Desperation grows as New Orleans residents struggle to recover from Ida

Elbertha Williams uses an envelope to fan herself in New Orleans on Sept. 1. “We don’t even have cellphone usage, so if we do need help, emergency help, we can’t get it,” she said. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

NEW ORLEANS — Patience was beginning to wear thin among residents here Wednesday as they awoke to a third day without power, water and food following Hurricane Ida’s devastating assault on Louisiana.

The city’s mayor and police chief continued to present a picture of progress and a city “under control.”

“We do anticipate additional progress, but it will be gradual, incremental,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said, noting that power had been restored in some parts of the city. “But seeing the progress, sooner rather than later, is absolutely a step in the right direction.”

Residents in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward told a different story.

Elbertha Williams said she has been confined to her bed in the hallway of her daughter’s house for 72 hours. She has been sidelined since a stroke and a fall last year. The family has been without power since Sunday.

“I am 64 years old, and there is no way on God’s earth that I am supposed to be suffering like this,” Williams said as she waved an envelope she has been using as a fan. “I survived the hurricane. That is something you could survive. You can’t survive this.”

Williams said she has slept little since Ida hit. The windows of her daughter’s rental house don’t open, and without power neither the air conditioner nor the ceiling fan work.

If help doesn’t arrive soon, Williams and her neighbors said they worry what first responders might find when they finally check on many of the sick, elderly and disabled who live alone.

“We don’t even have cellphone usage, so if we do need help, emergency help, we can’t get it,” Williams said.

As of Wednesday, seven storm-linked deaths had been confirmed in three states. Two power company employees died Tuesday while they worked on downed lines in Jefferson County, Ala.

New Orleans authorities said they presume a death on Tuesday was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, as they warned that increased generator use has driven additional incidents related to the odorless gas.

More than 985,000 electricity customers across Louisiana woke up to darkness again Wednesday, with complete power restoration potentially weeks away. More than 768,000 of those outages were Entergy’s, the state’s largest power provider.

Entergy, which provides power in New Orleans, said Wednesday it had restored electricity to about 11,500 customers in neighborhoods including New Orleans East, an impoverished part of the city situated along Lake Ponchartrain that was hit hard by Ida’s wind and rain.

“This is the first step in returning to normal,” Deanna Rodriguez, chief executive of Entergy New Orleans, said in a news briefing with city leaders.

But while Entergy’s outage map showed neighborhoods in green — signaling that power was on — there were few signs of it. Along Morrison Road, in the Little Woods subdivision, many homes remained dark — though it was unclear whether that was due to a lack of power or because residents had evacuated. Traffic lights were out, and many businesses remained closed, including gas stations where people stood waiting with gas cans, in the hopes a fuel truck might come.

“They say lights are coming on, but not at my house yet,” said Tyrone Williams, who had walked to the Shell station along Read Boulevard to see whether the pumps were working.

Along nearby Downman Boulevard, there were signs of desperation. At a Fast Stop gas station, at least a hundred people stood with gas cans waiting to use one of the three pumps that still had fuel. Many of those waiting had abandoned their cars along the side of the road in the hopes that they could make it to the pump faster on foot, before the gas ran out.

“I heard a lady say on the radio that they were trying to fix the transmission lines before people came back to the city, but what about us? What about people who stayed?” said LaDonna Patrice, who was waiting with two gas cans.

As the heat index was forecast to top 100 for much of this week, residents were staying cool as best they could. In Williams’s neighborhood, it has become so hot inside homes — even those with windows that open — that people have been putting their coolers out on the porch. The ice keeping what little food they have left safe is less likely to melt outside, they said. Some have taken to sleeping outside, even naked, though they occasionally hear gunfire.

“You want to wear as little as possible, and something that is comfortable to survive,” said Ryan Conerly, 48. “And at night, it’s so dark, you literally can’t see the hand in front of your face without a flashlight.”

They have pooled their food to share it and complained that the city’s cooling center, at a school about six blocks away, still did not have food midday Wednesday.

“I walked six blocks and they are just giving out bottles of water,” said Candice Wilson, Elbertha Williams’s daughter. “They have no ice. They just tell you [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is not around yet. And they don’t really have enough supplies yet to help you.”

About an hour later, however, a Salvation Army mobile canteen had pulled up next to the cooling center. Residents lined up for pasta, fruit, crackers and water.

Sami Hailemariam, the owner of Mike’s food store, said he has been trying to help his neighbors. “Not everybody has cash, and I’ve been trying to give some people some things on credit,” said Hailemariam, an immigrant from Ethiopia, adding that he faces his own hardship, including freezers full of melted ice cream and spoiled milk. “But these people don’t have anything. Where is FEMA?”

From her bed, Williams said she is “trusting God” that one day, soon, more government assistance — or electricity — will arrive here.

“I can get through this, but I hate to say, I feel like if I have to rely on the city or government for anything, I am f----- up,” she said. “Because nobody should have to go through this.”

In its Wednesday daily operations briefing, FEMA reported that, in response to Ida, 91 generators were “staged or in use,” and 298 ambulances are arriving in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Experts say that FEMA has changed its approach significantly since Hurricane Katrina.

“FEMA is much more proactive today than it was in 2005,” said Daniel Kaniewski, who was working in the White House during Katrina and was the deputy administrator at FEMA from 2017 to 2020.

“We need to set expectations appropriately. FEMA is not a first responder,” Kaniewski said. “FEMA is there to support the state.”

President Biden will travel to Louisiana on Friday, the White House announced Wednesday. In a statement, the White House said the president plans to survey the damage and meet with state and local leaders from affected communities.

Officials have said the death toll from the storm could continue to climb.

Southeast Louisiana residents desperate for food, power, water and help in Ida’s aftermath

“Historically, we know that most people are injured and killed because of the response, not the storm itself,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said during a news conference Tuesday as he pleaded with those who evacuated to stay away, explaining that “many of the life-supporting infrastructure elements are not present, they’re not operating right now.”

“If you have already evacuated, do not return here,” he said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Cantrell (D) noted that parts of the city were getting their electricity back.

As the outages continue, authorities said extended periods of heat and the increase in generator use have driven up the need for emergency services. Director of New Orleans EMS Emily Nichols said first responders have seen a spike in calls — 185 percent higher than usual.

“We are recognizing that there are some incidents unique to hurricanes, particularly related to carbon monoxide poisoning, that we have responded to over the last 24 hours,” Nichols said during the news conference.

“If you’re using a generator in your home or near your home, it really should be far away from your home because there is a chance that some of those carbon monoxide fumes are getting into your home,” Nichols said, urging residents to check on neighbors for potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

She said authorities responded to an incident on Wednesday in which eight people were affected by carbon monoxide and an incident Tuesday with five affected individuals.

Gas shortages continue to be a problem in the region, with residents seeking fuel to operate generators that can charge cellphones and run air conditioning units. Others hope to fill their vehicles and leave the area until conditions improve.

More than half of the service stations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were out of gas as of Wednesday morning, according to tracking service GasBuddy, and others were dealing with service issues related to power outages.

New Orleans residents took their chances at stations in the nearby suburbs including Metairie, where a line for pumps at a Sam’s Club was wrapped around the building and extended at least five miles down Airline Highway.

Under the punishing afternoon sun, a man was seen pushing his car in the long line, having run out of gas waiting for fuel. At least 100 cars were in front of him, as police and local sheriffs tried to keep order in lines that have spurred what New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson described as “domestic” incidents — including fights at the pumps.

An ambulance was treating someone for heat exhaustion in another long fuel line nearby. The man had been taken out of his car and emergency personnel were placing wet towels on his head and giving him water. Other drivers were waiting behind him so that the man didn’t lose his place in line.

The desperation extended across state lines. Mississippi Highway Patrol Maj. Johnny Poulos, an agency spokesman, said officers are seeing a lot of people coming into the state from Louisiana, many looking for gasoline.

He said patrol officers were trying to help direct traffic, diverting fuel seekers away from exits where stations are out of fuel and toward others with service available.

Gas shortages sweep Louisiana as hundreds of thousands remain without power

Heat advisories were in effect for much of the region Wednesday, and the National Weather Service warned that conditions could drive heat-related illnesses.

New Orleans officials activated several cooling centers and charging stations for storm victims. Area parishes were sharing information about places to obtain water and ice.

On Tuesday, hundreds of vehicles snaked through the streets of Algiers Point, on the city’s west bank, to get water and food at a distribution point set up at the Arthur Monday Jr. Multiservice Center, one of several that opened in the city.

Dozens of others lined up to access a power station to charge phones, including Cabbie Williams, 30, and her 10-year-old son Anthony, who had ridden out the storm in Algiers but were planning to go to Texas because of the heat.

Williams, a social worker, thought she could handle the aftermath, but the uncertainty of when the power might be restored had become too much.

“It was a cooler day yesterday, and it was still 82 degrees last night inside my house,” she said. “Just now, it was 84, and it’s only going to get worse. It’s just going to get worse.”

Late Tuesday, as New Orleans officials prepared for another night without power, city officials announced an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew — even as they tried to project the image of a city that was “stable,” as Cantrell told reporters during an afternoon news conference.

New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said there had been arrests for looting, but pointedly declined to say how many, accusing the news media of past instances of twisting the numbers to project a city “out of control.”

“I’m going to speak from the heart. I’m not going to allow no one in the media to drive a false narrative about this,” Ferguson said. “I will not give you any numbers on the number of arrests or looting, because every time we do that, this narrative develops that there’s this out-of-control city. We have made the arrests. We will continue to make arrests. We will remain engaged.”

Added Cantrell: “We’re stable, and we want to remain stable throughout, not only on day two, but as we move into the rest of the week.”

Jacob Bogage and Tik Root contributed to this report. Firozi and Beachum reported from Washington.

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