The lashing winds have ceased and the downpours have stopped, but despite Hurricane Ida’s departure from Louisiana, recovery is far away for a state that is no stranger to storms and their aftermath.
The governor warned that residents would face more challenges on Tuesday and beyond, including widespread power outages and the risk of deadly accidents if generators are misused. Local officials, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans and Cynthia Lee Sheng, the Jefferson Parish president, asked residents who evacuated their homes not to return until it was announced safe to do so.
“This is not the community that you left,” Ms. Lee Sheng said at a news conference. “I know you’re anxious to check your homes, but we are asking that everybody not come home yet. We cannot provide you the modern amenities that you’re used to.”
In Jefferson Parish, repairs need to be made to water lines, sewer systems and electrical grids, Ms. Lee Sheng said.
“I liken it to calling it a system breakdown,” she said.
The struggles were similar across southeastern Louisiana, but one of the greatest concerns was restoring power. More than a million homes and businesses were still in the dark on Monday night, including much of New Orleans, where all eight transmission lines that deliver power to the city were knocked out of service.
Entergy, a major power company in Louisiana, said on Monday that it would most likely “take days to determine the extent of damage to our power grid and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region.”
People should be reminded, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference on Monday afternoon, that there are more questions than answers about recovery.
“I can’t tell you when the power is going to be restored,” he said. “I can’t tell you when all the debris is going to be cleaned up and repairs made and so forth.”
Despite the challenges, New Orleans could rejoice that the levee system designed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to protect the city from flooding did its job.
“We held the line, New Orleans,” Ms. Cantrell said on Twitter. “The dollars invested into our levee system from state & federal partners were not in vain. However, moving forward we must repair our broken power grid.”
We held the line, New Orleans. The dollars invested into our levee system from state & federal partners were not in vain. However, moving forward we must repair our broken power grid & I am committed to working with Entergy to do just that! pic.twitter.com/XJ008307p7
— LaToya Cantrell (@LaToyaForNOLA) August 31, 2021
At least five deaths have been attributed to the storm, officials said: A man died while driving in New Orleans; a woman was found dead in the fishing village of Jean Lafitte, south of the city; and a man was killed in Prairieville, about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, where a tree fell on a house. In Mississippi, two people were killed and 10 were injured when a highway collapsed.
Ida, which weakened into a tropical depression on Monday afternoon, was expected to move over the Middle Tennessee Valley, Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic through Wednesday, with the potential to bring three to six inches of rain to those regions, the National Hurricane Center said.
Counties across Middle Tennessee were under a flash flood watch through early Wednesday, meaning that conditions were favorable for flooding, including in the area still reeling from severe flooding after remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.
Although it might take days or weeks to recover from Ida, Ms. Lee Sheng reminded residents that many in Jefferson Parish who were assisting with current recovery efforts had done the same after Hurricane Katrina.
“I know we have been through a lot as a community, I know sometimes I think we’re feeling like we’re tested,” she said. “But make no mistake, we are battered, but we will not be broken.”
‘We’re borrowing money to pay for a room’
Because of what they had gone through after Hurricane Katrina, when they were only teenagers, Terrell Reynolds, 33, and Kortney Lindsey, 32, evacuated to Houston with their four children and two other relatives before Ida struck.
But now they are frantic, unsure when they can return to their jobs in New Orleans and their apartment in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. Officials told them not to return because the city has no electricity for the foreseeable future. Public schools are closed until further notice.
“We’re borrowing money to pay for a room for tonight,” said Mr. Reynolds, adding that many other people in the hotel were in a similar position.
Even if they get financial assistance, the family would need to clean out its refrigerator and recover some toys and clothes before feeling comfortable staying away from home. Mr. Reynolds said he also wanted to pick up the beaded patches he was sewing for an elaborate Mardi Gras suit.
“We didn’t prepare to stay away for a long time,” he said. “No one thought it was going to be like this.”
— Katy Reckdahl
‘This was Katrina times two’
Ida’s powerful winds shredded much of LaPlace, a city west of New Orleans, where rescue crews on Monday were using one street as a launch ramp for their boats.
Shopping centers looked pulverized with their roofs shorn off and their parking lots covered in debris. Utility poles and trees had splintered. Traffic lights dangled over intersections, hanging by a thread.
Those who rode out the hurricane there described a harrowing encounter with the storm’s force, with wind kicking up water to create a blinding mist.
“It was zero to 60 — quick, real quick,” a local rapper who performs as O.G. Purpin said as he and a friend carried a barbecue grill out of the flooded neighborhood.
“This was Katrina times two,” said his friend, who gave his name as Jeff.
On Sunday night, the rapper had huddled with his girlfriend, her family and their pets in an attic as the storm swirled around the house. It was early in the morning when rescuers came by and pulled them to safety.
— Rick Rojas
‘We just have to believe in God’
Alani, 5, was not ready to be consoled outside the civic center turned hurricane shelter in Houma, playing with a stick she had found in a nearby pile of debris.
“She doesn’t want to be around nobody,” said her mother, Alexis Johnson, who is in her 20s. “I just tell her: Everything is going to be fine. We just have to believe in God.”
The family is one of many that sought shelter after Hurricane Ida spread misery throughout southeastern Louisiana.
In this city of about 33,000 people 60 miles from New Orleans, the storm leveled buildings, smashed trees into homes and filled entire blocks with debris. Thousands remained without power, food, gas and, more important, a sense of security, residents said.
Ida’s wrath arrived at Ms. Johnson’s mobile home on Sunday afternoon. She had been lying in bed listening to the walls tremble, she recalled, when the roof peeled off. She held on to Alani and fled for the shelter as soon as it felt safe.
Hours later, they sat under the baking sun wondering about their next steps.
“I can’t go home,” Ms. Johnson said. “We have nothing left.”
— Edgar Sandoval
Jefferson Parish, La.
‘We are trying to conserve energy’
Craig Mills was grateful his family did not evacuate, choosing instead to battle the storm from his sister’s home in a Jefferson Parish suburb of New Orleans.
“We had a couple small leaks in the house,” he said. “So if we hadn’t been here, it would have been extensive water damage if that water started coming in.”
While there has been no damage to the house or flooding, the family did lose power at 8:45 a.m. Sunday, before Hurricane Ida made landfall. On Monday, Mr. Mills drove to a Lowe’s in search of cellphone reception.
Mr. Mills said the motivation for staying put included the knowledge that the house had withstood damage from Hurricane Katrina, as well as concern about the number of people in New Orleans who are not vaccinated for the coronavirus.
“Escaping for escape’s sake wasn’t necessarily the answer,” he said.
As the family hunkered down, the biggest concern was rationing food and gas while waiting for power to be restored. There was enough for a week’s worth of meals, and the family was relying on a generator.
“We have two containers for gas,” he said, “and we are trying to conserve energy to keep the fridge cool, and use the fan every once in a while.”
— Giulia Heyward
The remnants of Hurricane Ida were expected to bring stormy conditions to a large swath of the United States, from Tennessee to Massachusetts, over the next few days.
The storm, which made landfall in southern Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, knocked out power to New Orleans and caused widespread flooding. Some residents climbed into their attics to escape rising waters.
By early Tuesday, the storm, now downgraded to a tropical depression, was in northern Mississippi, producing heavy rain with winds of 30 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Ida was expected to push toward the northeast on Tuesday, the center said, producing heavy rain and a flood threat from the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys to the Mid-Atlantic States through Wednesday.
A flash flood watch was in effect through Tuesday night for portions of Middle Tennessee, where up to five inches of rain was expected. Prolonged heavy rainfall could lead to flash flooding, the center said. The western edge of North Carolina was also under a flash flood watch through Wednesday afternoon.
As the storm makes its way northeast, much of Kentucky, the southern portion of Ohio, West Virginia, a large swath of Virginia and points up to Massachusetts were also under a flash flood watch through at least Thursday. Areas across southern New England could see up to four inches of rain, with some isolated higher amounts, from Wednesday into Thursday.
The most intense hurricane on record to strike Louisiana swept through one of the nation’s largest chemical, petroleum and natural gas hubs. And while it may take days or weeks for the full extent of the storm’s impact to become clear, early reports of damage have heightened concerns over the vulnerability of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure to intensifying storms.
On Monday, officials warned that floodwaters had spilled over a temporary levee erected near a Phillips 66 refinery in Plaquemines, the state’s southernmost parish and one of the most severely affected by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. In neighboring St. Bernard Parish, almost two dozen barges unmoored by Hurricane Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour winds damaged the dock at the giant Valero Refinery. News photos showed extensive flooding and dark flares at Shell’s refining and chemical complex in Norco, farther inland.
Earlier hurricanes, including Harvey in 2017 and Laura in 2020, caused oil and chemical releases from storage tanks and other installations along the coast.
Bernardo Fallas, a spokesman for Phillips 66, said the company would “conduct a post-storm assessment of the refinery and its levees when it is safe to do so.” The refinery “completed a safe and orderly shutdown of operations” ahead of Ida’s arrival, he said.
Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity, with the ability to process about 3.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. In 2020, Louisiana’s two liquefied natural gas export terminals shipped out about 55 percent of the nation’s L.N.G. exports.
Much of that capacity was built after Katrina, and plans are in the works for a dozen more liquefied natural gas export terminals in the region — including at Port Fourchon, where Ida made landfall on Sunday. Environmental groups have criticized those plans, saying they contribute to the very climate crisis that poses a threat to those facilities.