NEW ORLEANS, Aug.31 (Reuters) – Southern Louisiana prepared for a month without electricity or reliable water service for Hurricane Ida, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the US Gulf Coast, as people faced suffocating heat and humidity.
Early Tuesday, about 1.3 million customers were without power about 48 hours after the storm made landfall, most of them in Louisiana, according to PowerOutage, which collects data from U.S. utility companies.
The storm killed at least four people, officials said, a death toll that might have been much higher without a walled dike system built around New Orleans after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. (Graphic of Hurricane Ida hitting the Gulf Coast)
Officials were unable to conduct a full damage assessment as downed trees clogged the roads, said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell.
Compounding the suffering, parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were subject to heat advisories, with a heat index across much of the region reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “No one is happy” with the estimate that power may not be restored for 30 days. He expressed hope that the state’s 20,000 line workers and thousands more on the way could finish sooner.
“We all want air conditioning… Even if you have a generator, after so many days they fail,” Edwards said.
At Ochsner St. Anne’s Hospital in southwest New Orleans, 6,000 gallon tankers pumped fuel and water into tanks behind the hospital to keep the air conditioning running. The medical center has closed to everyone except a few urgent patients.
Restaurants in New Orleans, many of which had closed before the storm, also faced an uncertain future due to a lack of electricity and other infrastructure, reflecting – at least for now – the issues that tormented businesses for weeks in the aftermath of Katrina.
“It’s really like Katrina,” said Lisa Blount, public relations manager at Antoine’s, a French Quarter landmark and the city’s oldest restaurant. “To hear that the power is potentially cut for two to three weeks is devastating.”
Even the generators were dangerous. Nine people from St. Tammany Parish in northeast New Orleans were rushed to hospital overnight with carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas generator, local media reported.
Electricity officials told leaders in Jefferson Parish, south of New Orleans, that its roughly 440,000 people may have to go without electricity for a month or more after utility poles are knocked down in the city. county, City Councilor Deano Bonano said in a telephone interview.
“The damage is much worse than Katrina from a wind point of view,” Bonano said.
‘THEY HAVE NOTHING’
Of the four deaths, two people were killed in a Southeast Mississippi highway collapse that seriously injured 10 others. One man died trying to cross high water in New Orleans and another when a tree fell on a house in Baton Rouge.
The swampy areas south of New Orleans were the most affected by the storm. The high water eventually receded from the highway to Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost port, leaving behind a trail of dead fish. Seagulls have invaded the road to eat them.
Port Fourchon suffered extensive damage and some roads were still not passable. Authorities only allowed emergency responders to visit Grand Isle, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. It could take weeks before the roads are fully passable, they said.
A gas station with fuel in Mathews, a community in the parish of Lafourche, had a line of cars stretching for at least a mile.
More than half of the people in Jefferson Parish weathered the storm in their homes, Bonano said, and many were left with nothing.
“There are no open grocery stores, no open gas stations. So they have nothing,” he said.
The weakened remnants of the storm dumped heavy rain in neighboring Mississippi on Tuesday as it made its way into Alabama and Tenneessee. Heavy rains and flash floods were possible Wednesday in the central Atlantic region and southern New England, forecasters said.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Deputies, Louisiana, were investigating the disappearance of a 71-year-old man after an apparent alligator attack in the floodwaters.
The man’s wife told authorities she saw a large alligator attacking her husband on Monday in the small community of Avery Estates, about 55 miles northeast of New Orleans. She stopped the attack and pulled her husband out of the floodwater.
Seeing that her injuries were severe, she took a small boat for help and returned to find her husband gone, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Reporting by Devikda Krishna Kumar in New Orleans and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman
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