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

Louisiana gets a first look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida battered Louisiana on Aug. 29 with reports of downed power lines, flooding, and collapsed buildings. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Go Nakamura/The Washington Post)

NEW ORLEANS — People clung to rooftops awaiting rescue, entire towns were cut off from communication, and more than a million faced the prospect of days — even weeks — without power as Louisianans awoke Monday and began to take stock of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida.

Parts of the state remained unreachable, making it impossible to fully assess the damage. Two deaths were confirmed, but Gov. John Bel Edwards said he expected the toll to be “considerably” higher.

Edwards (D) said Ida “came in and did everything that was advertised.” Search and rescue would be a priority.

“We know that there are individuals out there waiting to be rescued. Please know that we have thousands out doing search and rescue,” the governor said at a briefing.

Ida, which made landfall just before noon Sunday local time as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful storm to hit the area in over a century, continued to batter the region well into Monday.

While New Orleans was spared the worst, thanks in large part to the $14.5 billion federally funded levee system built after Hurricane Katrina, communities west and south of the city were completely routed by the storm. First responders and government officials in many communities had warned residents for days that once the storm hit, they would be hunkered down and unable to respond to emergency calls from those who decided not to evacuate.

With the lights off, food spoiling and gas pumps out of order, New Orleans faces extended power failure

There were widespread reports of downed power lines and trees, levee failures and flooding, collapsed buildings and people trapped in flooded homes. Utility officials said it would take days just to assess the damage before repairs could begin. Meanwhile, gas, food and water supplies were affected, with several communities instituting “boil water” advisories.

President Biden said the federal government would send more than 200 generators and “millions” of meals and drinking water.

“We’re in close contact with local electric providers to see what they need. They’re all private providers; we don’t control that, but we’re doing all we can to minimize the amount of time it’s going to take to get power back up for everyone in the region,” Biden said during a virtual meeting with Deanne Criswell, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, and officials in the affected states.

The president said he also had asked the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to make available any satellite imagery that could be helpful in assessing the damage.

On Monday, communities north of New Orleans experienced new flooding as Ida’s storm surge brought near-record water levels to rivers north of Lake Pontchartrain.

It was in Ascension Parish, west of New Orleans, that the sheriff’s department confirmed the first official death from the storm after a tree fell on a man’s home. In the second case, the state health department said a man drowned after his vehicle attempted to go through floodwater near Interstate 10 and West End Boulevard in New Orleans

In Metairie, Ida ripped part of the roof off the Metairie Towers Condominiums, forcing more than 50 residents of the independent-living facility to evacuate in the middle of the storm. They found refuge in a nearby church.

Even after Ida’s winds moved north into Mississippi, several communities were still unreachable, including Grand Isle, La., which had been submerged by a wall of water as Ida came ashore. Parish officials estimated that 40 people remained in the coastal community despite a mandatory evacuation ordered for the area. Other communities were inundated by water after smaller levees, which are separate from the federally funded levee protection system, failed during the storm.

In LaPlace, a bedroom community 30 minutes west of New Orleans that the eye of Ida passed over, emergency responders spent the night rescuing people who had to quickly get to their attics and roofs as the water rose swiftly Sunday night.

Entergy, the power company in New Orleans, has faced scrutiny for not properly maintaining their systems to withstand natural disasters. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

At the Shady Nook Mobile Home Park, a community of some 200 trailers and mostly Latino residents, people waded through thigh-high water to get into their still-submerged neighborhood Monday.

Ricardo Tellec, 63, stood in wet socks inside his trailer, slowly picking through his belongings to see what he could salvage. The door of his trailer had been blown off and displaced ceiling tiles collected on his bed, allowing Ida’s torrential rains to pour into his home.

Tellec, who is originally from Mexico, moved to LaPlace from Houston about 12 years ago. Fortunately, he left his trailer before the storm.

“Everything’s gone,” he said. “I lost a lot of items, but it’s not a problem. I can replace all that. The problem is I ain’t got a place to stay. That’s the problem.”

911 calls after Ida went unanswered in New Orleans due to ‘antiquated’ technology

In the dry parking lot at the entrance to the park, Carmen Girton, 43, wept inside her car. Girton lives here with her boyfriend, her children and two young grandchildren. The family spent Sunday night at a friend’s two-story home elsewhere in LaPlace, hoping it would be safer. They watched in terror as sections of the roof blew off.

Monday morning, Girton and her family returned to the park to see how their home had fared. Their trailer was shredded — a complete loss.

“It’s scary,” Girton said through tears. “I’m so afraid. It’s devastating, having no home. We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Girton moved from Texas to LaPlace after Hurricane Katrina for work at a demolition company that specializes in handling debris pickup after storms.

“We don’t have insurance. None of us have insurance out here,” Girton said. “We worry. What are we going to do?”

Arikea Thomas, 37, arrived in LaPlace on Monday to check on family she had been unable to reach by phone.

“My brother and sister-in-law’s house flooded to their chests,” Thomas said. “She was sending out SOS, like, ‘Help me,’ on Facebook. She couldn’t go on the roof because she’s pregnant. She was watching the water flood in her house.”

Thomas still had not heard from them.

Carl Mason Sr. said he tried to shelter in place for Ida, but he ended up getting in his truck to flee mid-storm.

“It never was like this before,” said Mason, 67, pointing to the floodwater blocking his street.

“I left out my house at 4, when the water started coming up so fast,” he said. “I tried to ride it out, but it started coming in the house. It was maybe at a foot when I left out.”

“This storm was totally different from Katrina. I evacuated for Katrina,” said Mason’s neighbor, Harold Basile Jr. “This one here we tried to ride it out, because we thought it wouldn’t be that bad.”

“It was horrible,” he said. “Never again.”

In recent years, LaPlace and nearby communities have experienced a number of historical floods, and some in the area blame the new levee system that protects New Orleans for forcing more of Lake Pontchartrain’s waters into their unprotected communities during weather events.

Meanwhile, residents and officials across the region wondered how long the area would be without electricity. A major transmission tower that feeds power into New Orleans and its western suburbs collapsed as Ida passed. All of New Orleans remained without power Monday.

The path of Hurricane Ida

Officials at Entergy, the region’s main electricity provider, told WVUE, the Fox affiliate in New Orleans, that the company hoped to restore power to much of the region within seven to 10 days but that in some areas it could take as long as three weeks. The loss of power for even a few days could turn into a public health crisis with high heat and humidity forecast to return this week.

The National Weather Service estimated a heat index would hit 100 degrees Tuesday and urged residents to drink water even if they don’t feel thirsty, wear loosefitting and light-colored clothing, and spend time in the shade.

“Heat is one of the most deadly weather hazards — don’t underestimate it,” the advisory read.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said that giving residents “access to power-charging stations, cooling stations, oxygen and other needs — that’s where our focus is right now.”

Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, encouraged those who fled the city to stay out for the time being, citing concern about spreading coronavirus variants and overwhelming already-strained hospitals, and because of the rising temperatures that could put residents at risk.

There was widespread damage from Ida in New Orleans. Windows were blown out of downtown high-rises, and downed trees and power lines blocked roads across the city. Unlike during Hurricane Katrina, however, the levees held and protected the city from catastrophic flooding. On Monday, the mayor expressed relief.

“We did not have another Katrina,” she said at a news conference. Still, officials were telling residents who had evacuated to stay out of the city because of power outages and debris and other hazards strewn throughout the city.

Parish officials across the region issued curfews for their residents. As of Monday afternoon, New Orleans’s 911 system was still experiencing widespread “technical difficulties,” and residents were instead being told to seek help in person from first responders.

Along St. Charles Avenue, which traverses New Orleans’s Uptown neighborhood, hundreds of the city’s famous towering oak trees, some still decorated in beads from the Mardi Gras floats that pass along the avenue every year, were uprooted or split in half, their hefty limbs blocking the streets and sidewalks.

“It’s like God took a razor and sheared it all off,” said Mandy Leigh, 47, as she maneuvered around towering tree branches and downed power lines, some blocking the tracks of the St. Charles Streetcar.

Many side streets throughout Uptown and the Garden District were blocked by debris. Some of the old mansions, immortalized in the scores of television shows and movies that have been shot here, had been damaged by the storm — shutters were blown off and shingles torn off roofs.

But it was the lack of power — and the lack of a timeline for its return — that had neighbors on edge. A couple in the Lower Garden District were packing up their SUV with suitcases and supplies as they prepared to evacuate to Biloxi, Miss., to wait out what could be days or weeks without electricity.

Virtually every business was closed and gas stations emptied. But most of the pumps were on and working at the JetGo gas station on Magazine Street. “Regular only,” read a sign taped to the four pumps, as cars quickly lined up down Magazine Street — a line that grew to as many as 25 cars at one point. Residents topped off their tanks and filled up gas cans to feed their generators.

Inside, owner Abbas Alsherees said he had come into the city from the suburbs to check on his store and found the building relatively undamaged and the generator working. Inside, people scrambled to buy cold drinks and snacks and rushed up with cash to secure their time at the pump.

“I came in for what I thought was going to be for five minutes, and I’ve now been here for two hours,” he said, adding that he would probably stay until the gas ran out.

As people across the region turned to generators, officials were worried about carbon monoxide poisoning caused by their improper use. During Hurricane Laura, which hit southwestern Louisiana last year, the Louisiana Department of Health reported that nine of the 25 deaths that occurred during the storm and its aftermath were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

While the Mississippi Gulf Coast was spared from the worst of Hurricane Ida, the storm’s outer bands caused damage far from the center of the storm. In Jackson County, Miss., which borders Alabama, a particularly strong band led to a flurry of water rescues, with 15 people calling for assistance. Approximately 300 homes were inaccessible because of flooding, and at least half of those homes had taken on water, said Earl Etheridge, director of the Jackson County Office of Emergency Services.

National Hurricane Center forecasters warned that additional flooding could be in store for portions of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and the Mid-Atlantic through Wednesday as the remnants of Ida moved across the eastern third of the United States.

Bailey reported from New Orleans and Cusick from LaPlace, La. Carmen K. Sisson in Gulfport, Miss., Tom Moore in Metairie, La., and Felicia Sonmez, Silvia Foster-Frau and Paulina Firozi in Washington contributed to this report.