NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The power outages after Hurricane Ida are making the sweltering summer unbearable in much of New Orleans. But that misery is compounded in some areas outside the city by a lack of water, flooded neighborhoods and severely damaged homes.
Four days after the Ida struck, the storm’s lingering effects were being felt unevenly across Louisiana. Meanwhile, the remnants of the system walloped parts of the Northeast, dumping record-breaking rain in a region that had not expected a serious blow and killing at least 22 people from Maryland to New York.
New Orleans was protected from catastrophic flooding by the levee system that was revamped after Hurricane Katrina. The power was back on Thursday before dawn in parts of the city’s business district and other downtown neighborhoods. Utility crews also restored electricity to several hospitals in Jefferson Parish and near Baton Rouge, officials said. Some streets were cleared of fallen trees and debris, and a few corner stores reopened.
The overwhelming majority of homes were still dark. In seven parishes, at least 95% of customers remained without power Thursday. Only 35,000 of the 405,000 homes and businesses in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish had power Thursday morning, according to the poweroutage.us website. Statewide, 917,000 customers were without electricity, down from about 1.1 million at the height of the storm.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s pleased that power returned for some people.
“I’m very mindful that it’s a start, and only a start,” he told a news conference.
Power would be restored to most customers in the greater Baton Rouge area by Sept. 8. after workers finish assessing the damage to the grid, Entergy Louisiana President Philip May said Thursday. That assessment is not as far along in the harder-hit regions, so Entergy said it has no timetable for getting service to those areas, which include New Orleans.
The system that hit Sunday with 150 mph (230 kph) winds was tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland U.S.
In addition to the power outages, the storm tore apart water systems At least 600,000 customers had no running water. Hundreds of thousands of other homes and business were being told to boil their water before using it.
Gasoline shortages were also a problem for people trying to run generators and waiting in drive-thru lines for food and water. The lines for gas stretched for blocks in many places from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
At least seven deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including two 19-year-old Pike Electric employees killed Tuesday as they were restoring power near Birmingham, Alabama. Investigators were still trying to determine exactly how they were killed.
Outside New Orleans, neighborhoods remained flooded and residents were still reeling from the damage. More than 1,200 people were walking through some of Ida’s hardest-hit communities to look for people needing help, according to the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s office. President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage, the White House said.
Gayle Lawrence lost two cars, refrigerators and almost everything in her garage to floodwaters in southern Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish. The garage was filled with marsh grass and dead fish. Scores of other homes in the neighborhood were also flooded.
“The house is solid. It didn’t even move. But when the water came up, it destroyed everything,” she said.
In Jefferson Parish, authorities on Wednesday waited for floodwaters to recede enough for trucks carrying food, water and repair supplies to begin moving into Lafitte and other low-lying communities. The parish neighbors New Orleans and saw widespread destruction from Ida.
Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said a gas shortage hampered hospital staff, food bank employees and other critical workers.
“Today, we’re a broken community,” Sheng told a news conference. “It won’t always be that way.”
Evacuees considering returning home to Terrebonne Parish were warned by emergency officials on Twitter that “there are no shelters, no electricity, very limited resources for food, gasoline and supplies and absolutely no medical services.”
Louisiana’s largest hospital system, Ochsner Health, was considering opening a field hospital somewhere in Terrebonne or Lafourche parish because the shuttering of most of the hospitals in the area removed about 250 to 300 beds.
A spokesperson for Edwards said the governor’s office was in discussions with local leaders “to make sure we can restore health care to the parish, and that does include discussions of a field hospital.” But the plans were not final.
As the staggering scope of the disaster began to come into focus, a private firm estimated that total damage from Ida could exceed $50 billion, making it among the costliest U.S. hurricanes.
Hard-hit areas in southeast Louisiana were also under a heat advisory Thursday. Forecasters warned that combined heat and humidity could make some areas feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius).
New Orleans officials opened seven places where people could get a meal and sit in air conditioning. The city was also using 70 buses as cooling sites, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
Karen Evans charged electronic devices at a New Orleans gym where four tall fans stirred the air. Her home in the city was not damaged, but she was struggling without power.
“The great challenge is living a life in a sweltering place without air conditioning,” she said.