Hurricane Ida knocked out power to all of New Orleans and inundated coastal Louisiana communities on a deadly path through the Gulf Coast that was still unfolding Monday, promising more destruction.
The heavy rain and storm surge has already had a catastrophic impact along the southeast coast of Louisiana, and life-threatening floods along rivers was continuing well inland as torrential rain kept falling, forecast to dump as much as two feet in places as Ida’s center moved over Mississippi.
Ida made landfall on the same day 16 years earlier that Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, and its 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the mainland. It was already blamed for on death, someone hit by a falling tree in Prairieville, outside Baton Rouge, deputies with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Sunday.
The power outage in New Orleans, meanwhile, heightened the city’s vulnerability to flooding and left hundreds of thousands of people without air conditioning and refrigeration in sweltering summer heat.
The 911 system in Orleans Parish also experienced technical difficulties early Monday. Anyone needing emergency assistance was urged to go to their nearest fire station or approach their nearest officer, the New Orleans Emergency Communications Center tweeted.
Ida finally became a tropical storm again 16 hours after making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. Its top sustained wind were 60 mph (97 kph) early Monday, and forecasters said it would rapidly weaken throughout the morning while still dumping torrential rain over a large area. The storm was centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) south-southwest of Jackson, Mississippi, moving north at 8 mph (13 kmh).
As Ida made landfall Sunday, the rising ocean swamped the barrier island of Grand Isle and roofs on buildings around Port Fourchon blew off. The hurricane then churned through the far southern Louisiana wetlands, threatening the more than 2 million people living in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
In Baton Rouge, 27-year-old Robert Owens watched the sky in his neighborhood light up as transformers blew up all around him.
“Never in my life have I encountered something this major,” he said as giant gusts rattled his home’s windows.
Significant flooding was reported late Sunday night in LaPlace, a community adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain, meteorologists in New Orleans said. Many people took to social media, pleading for boat rescues as the water rose.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said rescue crews would not be able to immediately help those who were stranded as the storm raged. And he warned his state to brace for potentially weeks of recovery.
“Many, many people are going to be tested in ways that we can only imagine today,” the governor told a news conference Sunday.
But he added, “There is always light after darkness, and I can assure you we are going to get through this.”
The entire city of New Orleans late Sunday was without power, according to city officials. The city’s power supplier — Entergy — confirmed that the only power in the city was coming from generators, the city’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness said on Twitter. The message included a screenshot that cited “catastrophic transmission damage” for the power failure.
The city relies on Entergy for backup power for the pumps that remove storm water from city streets. Rain from Ida is expected to test that pump system.
Overall, more than 1 million customers in Louisiana were without power, and another 80,000 or so in Mississippi were in the dark, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks outages nationwide.
In New Orleans, wind tore at awnings and caused buildings to sway and water to spill out of Lake Pontchartrain. The Coast Guard office there received more than a dozen reports of breakaway barges, said Petty Officer Gabriel Wisdom. Officials said Ida’s swift intensification to a massive hurricane in just three days left no time to organize a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans’ 390,000 residents.
In Lafitte, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of New Orleans, a loose barge struck a bridge, according to Jefferson Parish officials. And U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyette said engineers detected a “negative flow” on the Mississippi River as a result of storm surge.
Ida was churning in one of the nation’s most important industrial corridors — home to a large number of petrochemical sites.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality was in contact with more than 1,500 oil refineries, chemical plants and other sensitive facilities and will respond to any reported pollution leaks or petroleum spills, agency spokesman Greg Langley said.
Louisiana is also home to two nuclear power plants, one near New Orleans and another about 27 miles (about 43 kilometers) northwest of Baton Rouge.
The region getting Ida’s worst is also already reeling from a resurgence of COVID-19 infections due to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant.
New Orleans hospitals planned to ride out the storm with their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients. And shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming flashpoints for new infections.
Comparisons to the Aug. 29, 2005, landfall of Katrina weighed heavily on residents. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths as it caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Now facing Ida more than a decade and a half later, officials emphasized that the city’s levee system has been massively improved.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Louisiana. He said Sunday the country was praying for the best for the state and would put its “full might behind the rescue and recovery” effort once the storm passes.
Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Michael Biesecker in Washington; and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.