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Hurricane Ida’s aftermath: No power, no flights, scant drinking water

Hurricane Ida has left wide swaths of Louisiana without power. (NASA photo/Public domain)

Hurricane Ida has left wide swaths of Louisiana without power. (NASA photo/Public domain)

NEW ORLEANS - Hundreds of thousands of Louisianans sweltered in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida on Tuesday with no electricity, no tap water, precious little gasoline and no idea when things might improve.

Long lines that wrapped around the block formed at the few gas stations that had fuel and generator power to pump it. People cleared rotting food out of refrigerators. Neighbors shared generators and used buckets of swimming pool water to bathe or to flush toilets.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us and no one is under the illusion that this is going to be a short process,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said as the cleanup and recovery began across the soggy region in the oppressive late-summer heat.

More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi – including all of New Orleans – were left without power when Ida slammed the electric grid on Sunday with its 150 mph winds, toppling a major transmission tower and knocking out thousands of miles of lines and hundreds of substations.

An estimated 25,000-plus utility workers labored to restore electricity, but officials said it could take weeks.

With water treatment plants overwhelmed by floodwaters or crippled by power outages, some places are also facing shortages of drinking water. About 441,000 people in 17 parishes had no water, and an additional 319,000 were under boil-water advisories, federal officials said.

The number of deaths climbed to at least four in Louisiana and Mississippi, including two people killed Monday night when seven vehicles plunged into a 20-foot-deep hole near Lucedale, Mississippi, where a highway had collapsed after torrential rains. Edwards said he expects the death toll to rise.

In Slidell, crews searched for a 71-year-old man whose wife said he was attacked by an alligator in Ida's floodwaters. She pulled him to the steps of the home and paddled away to get help, but when she returned, he was gone, authorities said.

Wildlife officials warned of bears, snakes, alligators and feral hogs looking for food in the storm's aftermath.

Edwards traveled with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to see the damage firsthand. She said FEMA teams arriving Tuesday would go house to house in hard-hit neighborhoods to register people for aid, particularly in areas with cellphone outages.

The governor warned some of those who fled their homes not to come back until officials give the all-clear.

“The schools are not open. The businesses are not open. The hospitals are slammed. There’s not water in your home and there is not going to be electricity,” he said after touring LaPlace in hard-hit suburban St. John the Baptist Parish, where 80% of rescues, but no deaths, took place. “So let’s get you where you can be safe and somewhat comfortable.”

In New Orleans, drivers lined up for roughly a quarter-mile, waiting to get into a Costco that was one of the few spots in the city with gasoline. At other gas stations, motorists occasionally pulled up to the pumps, saw the handles covered in plastic bags and drove off.

Michael Pinkrah used his dwindling fuel to find food. He cradled his 3-week-old son in the back seat of an SUV and his 2-year-old daughter played in the front seat as his wife stood in a long line in the sweltering heat to get into one of the few grocery stores open in the city.

Pinkrah said he and his wife thought about evacuating but couldn't find a hotel room. They found out about the open store through social media. But even that link was tenuous.

“We can’t charge our electronic devices to keep in contact with people. And without that, all of the communication just fails,” he said.

Elsewhere in New Orleans, Hank Fanberg said both of his neighbors offered him access to their generators. He also had a plan for cooking food: “I have a gas grill and charcoal grill.”

In Houma, the dismal reality of life without air conditioning, refrigeration or other more basic needs began to sink in.

“There’s no electricity. Our desperate need right now is tarps, gasoline for generators, food, water," pastor Chad Ducote said. He said a church group from Mississippi arrived with some food and supplies but was gone in 10 minutes. Neighbors came to Ducote's pool to scoop up buckets of water.

“The people down here are just doing what they can. They don’t have anything," he said.

Adding to the misery was the steamy weather. A heat advisory was issued for New Orleans and the rest of the region, with forecasters saying the combination of high temperatures and humidity could make it feel like 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday and 106 on Wednesday.

Also stuck in New Orleans were tourists who didn't get out before the storm. The airport canceled all incoming and outgoing commercial flights for a third day, saying the lack of power and water meant no air conditioning or restrooms.

Cynthia Andrews couldn't go back to her New Orleans home if she wanted to. She is in a wheelchair, tethered by a power cord to the generator system running the elevators and hallway lights at the Le Meridien hotel.

When the power went out Sunday, the machine that helps Andrews breathe after a lung collapse in 2018 stopped working. The hotel let her stay in the lobby, giving her a cot after she spent nearly a whole night in her wheelchair.

“It was so scary, but as long as this thing keeps running, I’ll be OK,” she said.

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