Dozens of rescue missions were launched across southern Louisiana to evacuate people stranded in their homes Monday after Hurricane Ida battered the coast and knocked out power to virtually all of New Orleans before cutting a dangerous path north.
The powerful weather system, which weakened to a tropical depression, was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the region. At least two deaths related to the storm were reported.
Major search-and-rescue operations to answer the hundreds of rescue calls were hampered by inoperable 911 lines and poor cellphone service reported throughout southeastern Louisiana, including heavily populated Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Officials in both parishes later said 911 issues had been resolved.
The latest on Ida:
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Ida, which weakened to a tropical depression, was over central Mississippi late Monday with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. Around 63,000 customers were without electricity there.
- At least two deaths were reported in Louisiana, including a 60-year-old man whose home was crushed by a tree and of a man who drowned driving through floodwater.
- More than 1 million homes and businesses remained without power across the state, including all of Orleans Parish.
The Louisiana National Guard activated 4,900 Guard personnel and was positioned to send nearly 200 high-water vehicles and more than 70 rescue boats and 30 helicopters. By Monday afternoon, 191 people and 27 pets had been rescued after crews checked 400 homes, Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters.
Speaking Monday morning to NBC’s “TODAY” show, Edwards said that the damage was catastrophic and that officials believe the death toll could rise “considerably.”
Edwards expressed some relief in that Louisiana’s $14 billion levee system appeared to have held up “extremely well.” The sophisticated system was designed to protect a 133-mile perimeter around the New Orleans metro area from intense flooding.
“It didn’t overtop. There was no failure. The situation in New Orleans, as bad it was today without the power, would be so much worse,” Edwards said, hinting at the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005, which prompted improvements and extensive investment in the levees.
“This storm packed a very powerful punch. It delivered the surge that was forecasted, the wind that was forecasted and the rain,” he said, estimating that recovery will take months.
Electric utilities reported more than 1 million homes and businesses without power in Louisiana. Entergy New Orleans, the main power utility in the city with nearly 200,000 customers, said all of New Orleans lost electricity early Sunday evening because of “catastrophic damage” to its transmission system.
The company tweeted Monday that it “will likely take days to determine the extent of damage to our power grid … and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region.”
Another 329,000 people throughout the region remained under boil water notices, Edwards said.
At least two deaths were linked to Ida, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm with howling 150 mph winds on the same date that Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years earlier. A 60-year-old man died in Ascension Parish when a tree fell on his home, and a man drowned after he drove through a flooded road, authorities said.
Late Monday, Ida was in Central Mississippi and had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, the hurricane center said. Gov. Tate Reeves said earlier that the damage appeared light so far, but he warned the residents who had lost power to prepare for sweltering conditions.
“It is going to be hot in Mississippi tomorrow,” Reeves told reporters.
The storm could still dump 2 to 4 inches of rain on parts of Louisiana, central Mississippi could get 8 inches of rain, and coastal Alabama could see an additional 3 to 6 inches, the hurricane center said. There could also be tornadoes in the region, including southeast Mississippi and in Alabama, it said.
The hurricane’s high winds ripped roofs from buildings in New Orleans, scattered debris across the famed French Quarter, toppled large trees and brought on flooding in Grand Isle, Louisiana. In St. Rose, in greater New Orleans, video posted on social media showed two large boats colliding.
In St. John Parish, west of New Orleans along the east bank of the Mississippi River, people used social media to report residents trapped in attics as the floodwaters climbed.
“I know that we’re not in it by ourselves, and it’s going to be OK,” Tiffany Miller of LaPlace, who retreated to her attic, told NBC affiliate WDSU of New Orleans overnight Monday. She estimated that 3 to 5 feet of water had inundated her subdivision.
Edwards said homes in St. John Parish have been damaged to the point that they are uninhabitable.
Early Monday, officials were preparing to survey the damage as the sun came up and teams got ready to head out to check on those who called for rescue throughout the night. Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told “TODAY” there were around 250 calls for rescue overnight.
“We are ending what was a terrifying night for many individuals waiting for their rescue,” she said. “Today is the day we are going to see the damage.”
Levees in the Lafitte area were reported to have been topped, but they did not have structural damage, she said.
Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said more damage than had been predicted is likely.
“This is going to be a really long recovery,” she said early Monday on MSNBC.
New Orleans’ sewer and water board said the power loss could affect a “very significant” number of its 84 sewer pumping stations. The board said that it had obtained backup generators for some but that “in order to prevent sewage backups, we have asked residents to limit water usage at home, thus decreasing the amount of wastewater we must remove.”
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Ida made landfall over Port Fourchon, Louisiana, about 11:55 a.m. Sunday as it moved into the mouth of the Mississippi River, the hurricane center said.
Authorities in Lafourche Parish reported extensive destruction Monday to buildings, including its two hospitals.
Lady of the Sea General Hospital had “significant damage,” including to its roof, but “all patients and staff are fine at this time without injury,” CEO Karen Collins said on Facebook.
Thibodaux Regional Medical Center said that a generator partly failed but that it continued to have power and was working with the state Health Department.
At landfall, Ida’s winds were just shy of 157 mph, the level considered a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, which rates storms from 1 to 5 based on maximum sustained wind speed. Only four storms have made landfall in the continental U.S. as Category 5 hurricanes in the last century: the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, Camille in 1969, Andrew in 1992 and Michael in 2018.
President Joe Biden approved Louisiana’s disaster declaration Sunday night, freeing federal aid for people and governments in the affected areas.