Saturday, January 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hurricane Ida rocks Gulf Coast, leaving New Orleans in the dark

One of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the mainland U.S. swept through the Gulf region on Sunday, leaving residents in New Orleans and the surrounding area without power.

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Half of Louisiana, including the entire city of New Orleans, and more than 100,000 people in Mississippi were still in the dark Monday morning after Hurricane Ida tore off roofs and submerged streets and buildings.

The Category 4 storm devastated Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Sunday with 150 mph winds at landfall before touching down again in Galliano, near the mouth of the Mississippi River not far from New Orleans, on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Ida tied Katrina for the fifth strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the mainland United States.

The full impact of the storm may not be known for days, particularly when it comes to the power grid. It will likely take more than a few days to restore electricity in the region, according to a Nola.com report.    

“Tomorrow we’ll know more. Hopefully we’ll build on that, once we have boots on the ground,” Deanna Rodriguez, president and CEO of Entergy New Orleans, said around 1 a.m. Monday morning.  

The eight transmission lines that were lost are the tributaries by which most of the electrical power used by the New Orleans region is delivered from elsewhere in the state. Fully restoring power will require fixing those lines, as well as repairing the normal power lines that bring electricity to homes and businesses.

“Please remain where you are,” a text from the city of New Orleans urged residents just before daybreak Monday. “Ida has left hazards across Louisiana including flooded roadways, debris & downed powerlines.”

Twenty minutes later, the city texted again: “911 remains out, and roads are covered in debris/trees/power lines. Although weather passed, continue to stay indoors & off roads.”

Elsewhere in Louisiana, rescue teams and city officials scrambled at first light to assess damages and respond to emergencies.

In Ascension Parish, which includes part of Baton Rouge, a 60-year-old man was killed Sunday night when a tree fell through his home as Ida’s winds tore down power lines, tipped over gas pumps and left trees scattered on Interstate 10.

Ascension Parish officials said on Facebook they had dispatched crews at sunrise Monday to clear roads of fallen trees and downed power lines.

“For your safety, please be patient and stay off the roadways while these crews are working to restore Ascension Parish,” the parish's homeland security agency advised residents. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.

Sharon Weston Broome, mayor-president of the city of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, announced early Monday the parish had dispatched 25 search-and-rescue teams to neighboring towns.

There were also near misses in Central, a Baton Rouge suburb, where firefighters rescued an elderly woman early Monday morning after a tree fell on her mobile home and took her to the hospital.

Central Fire Department Chief Derek Glover told WAFB TV, “We’ve had 12 calls for assistance with trees on homes. Out of those 12 approximately five have been people inside of them. … A lot of the access to some of the calls we’ve been trying to get to, trees on homes, the roads have been blocked so we’ve had to cut our way to some of these incidents to check on the individuals.”

Around 12:45 a.m. Monday Glover said the fire department had only one such call left to take care of: “We have a mother with six children, a tree fell on the house, and she can no longer stay there. We’re getting her out of the home, getting the kids out and transporting her to a local shelter here in Central.”

Despite the property damage, Glover said he only knew of one Central resident, the elderly woman, who had been hospitalized with injuries from the storm.

ADVERTISEMENT

About 75 residents of Grand Isle, a town in Jefferson Parish on a narrow barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles south of New Orleans, decided to ride out the storm in their homes, but 15 of them took shelter in the town’s police station as Ida lashed the island with winds of more than 140 mph before it made landfall.

Police Chief Scooter Resweber told the Weather Channel on Sunday morning he was watching Ida wreak havoc out of a bulletproof window at the police station. 

"We're watching the roofs peel off buildings next to us. The flooding is catastrophic. … Things are coming apart all around us," he said.

While a 13-foot levee in Grand Isle held up and blocked storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico, residents of Jean Lafitte, a town of around 2,000 residents 20 miles south of New Orleans, and two neighboring towns reportedly had to climb into their attics Sunday to escape rising water after storm surge went over the area’s levees.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng has imposed a mandatory curfew from 6 a.m. Monday to at least 6 a.m. Tuesday.

“All residents are advised to stay off the roads as there are many hazards. President Lee Sheng will advise if the curfew has to be extended once damages have been assessed and rescue operations have been completed,” the parish announced on Facebook.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Dominick Impastato posted a message early Monday telling residents that every major thoroughfare in his district has power lines across the street and urging them to be patient with the recovery.

“Expect power to be out for a significant amount of time,” he said. “Any time we see split poles, or downed poles, that takes a significant amount of time to replace and get power restored to those areas. We’d ask that you please make plans to be somewhere else for the next week, two weeks, something significant.”

Without a power grid, there was little indication Monday when schools and businesses would be able to operate again.

With Ida arriving at the end of month, like Katrina and several other past hurricanes in the Gulf region, those affected by the storm faced tough choices. Many who chose not to evacuate this storm did so simply because their bank accounts were empty and they had nowhere free of charge to go.

“There are many in our city for whom evacuation is financially impossible. Storms like these can ruin lives. It’s important to acknowledge that inequality – especially when the burdens fall on the Black community – and work to change it,” Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement on the eve of Ida's landfall.

Still, the kindness of strangers brings small glimmers of hope.

At least one evacuee realized Sunday morning she had been gifted $200 from an anonymous follower on her social media blog.

“I just posted saying I was evacuating, and anything would help,” the 23-year-old from New Orleans who asked not to be named said.

“It’s been such a hard time for everyone. Everyone is struggling,” she said. “But I’m just so grateful they were able to help. It will go a long way.”

When Hurricane Harvey dumped record amounts of rainfall on southeast Texas in August 2017, Louisiana boat owners who belong to volunteer groups informally and collectively known as the Cajun Navy rushed into Texas and rescued hundreds of people stranded by floodwaters.

Some Texas community leaders are returning that kindness and helping out Louisianans displaced by Ida.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is letting evacuees sleep on the showroom floor of his Gallery Furniture store on Interstate 45 in Houston.

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, said on Twitter the megachurch will accommodate as many people who fled the hurricane as it safely can, and is holding donation drives for them Monday and Tuesday, accepting bottled water, cleaning supplies, baby wipes and diapers.

Before making landfall Sunday, Ida’s top winds grew by 45 mph in just five hours as the hurricane moved through some of the warmest ocean water in the world in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

“This is not the kind of storm that we normally get. This is going to be much stronger than we usually see and, quite frankly, if you had to draw up the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana, it would be something very, very close to what we’re seeing,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told the Associated Press ahead of landfall.

Wind tore at awnings and water spilled out of Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans before noon Sunday. Officials said Ida's swift intensification in just three days left no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of the city's 390,000 residents.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents to leave voluntarily. Those who stayed were warned to prepare for long power outages amid sweltering heat.

“This is the time. Heed all warnings. Ensure that you shelter in place. You hunker down,” Cantrell said in a news conference.

Follow Sabrina Canfield and Cameron Langford on Twitter

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...