Hurricane Ida traps Louisianans, shatters the power grid

Rescuers set out in hundreds of boats and helicopters to reach people trapped by floodwaters today, and utility repair crews rushed in, after furious Hurricane Ida swamped the Louisiana coast and made a shambles of the electrical grid in the sticky, late-summer heat.

More than 1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi—including most of the Baton Rouge area and all of New Orleans—are without power after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland, pushed through Sunday. 

But with many roads impassable and cellphone service knocked out in places, the full extent of its fury is still coming into focus. Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards, says that given the level of destruction, “We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities.”

The governor’s office says damage to the power grid appeared “catastrophic.” And officials warned it could be weeks before power is fully restored, leaving multitudes without refrigeration or air conditioning, with highs forecast in the mid-80s to close to 90 by midweek.

“For the most part, all of our levees performed extremely well—especially the federal levees—but at the end of the day, the storm surge, the rain, the wind all had devastating impacts,” Edwards says. “We have tremendous damage to homes and to businesses.”

When daylight came, the streets of New Orleans were littered with branches and some roads were blocked. But there were no immediate reports of the catastrophic flooding city officials had feared.

The governor’s office says more than 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of this morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. Stephens says the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so that they can keep their distance from one another.

“This is a COVID nightmare,” she said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”

Interstate 10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was closed because of flooding, with the water reported to be 4 feet deep at one spot, officials say.

The Louisiana National Guard says it activated 4,900 Guard personnel and lined up 195 high-water vehicles, 73 rescue boats and 34 helicopters. Local and state agencies were adding hundreds of more.

The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant tower that carries key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area, causing widespread outages, Entergy and local authorities said. The power company said more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service, along with 216 substations.

The storm also flattened utility poles, brought trees down onto power lines and caused transformers to explode with flashes that lit up the night sky.

“We don’t know if the damage is something we can get up quickly,” Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez told WWL-TV.

The governor said on Sunday that 30,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore electricity.

AT&T’s phone system was down all across southeastern Louisiana this morning, though there are anecdotal reports of service returning for some users. Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies. The governor’s office staff had no working phones.

People who evacuated struggled to check on those who didn’t leave. 

Ida’s 150 mph winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland. Its winds were down to 45 mph early today. Read more.