As Ida Weakens, More Than 1 Million Gulf Coast Homes And Businesses Are Without Power
A massive relief effort is underway across the Gulf Coast following the worst of Ida's tear through the region, as the storm has knocked out power to more than 1 million homes and businesses and left at least two people dead.
Since making landfall Sunday, Ida has thrashed parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida with high winds, heavy rain and the threat of tornadoes.
By Monday evening, the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved across Mississippi with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. When Ida made landfall, its winds were as high as 150 mph.
The storm left downed trees and power lines and millions of people without electricity. In Louisiana alone, more than 1 million customers were without power Monday night, according to the site PowerOutage.US. In neighboring Mississippi, more than 70,000 customers were without power.
The outages included the entire city of New Orleans — slowing search and rescue efforts. The Orleans Parish 911 emergency call center experienced service outages.
Officials said New Orleans was better prepared for a major storm than it was in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the coastal city.
Still, they are bracing for a lengthy recovery from what Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called "one of the strongest storms to make landfall in modern times."
The death toll is expected to rise
As of Monday night, at least two people were known to have died from Ida, but officials expect the death toll to rise in coming days.
The Louisiana Department of Health confirmed one man, whose name and age were not disclosed, drowned in his car after trying to drive through floodwater on Interstate 10 in New Orleans.
The first victim was discovered on Sunday night by the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office after responding to calls about a person "injured from a fallen tree at a residence off of Highway 621 in Prairieville."
The governor, in an interview with NBC's Today on Monday, said he expected the number of fatalities to increase "considerably."
"I don't want to tell you what I'm hearing, because what I'm hearing points to a lot more than that. They're not yet confirmed, and I really don't want to go there," the governor said.
Some areas of Louisiana were under mandatory evacuation orders, but officials said not everybody was able to get out before Ida arrived.
The recovery is just beginning. It could take weeks
Louisiana deployed 1,600 workers to conduct search and rescue operations Monday, as the storm subsided in parts of the state.
The Louisiana State Police reported dangerous conditions and blocked roads, and officials asked residents to avoid travel.
In some areas, it could be more than a month before the power is turned back on.
Jefferson Parish emergency management director Joe Valiente told NPR it will take at least six weeks to restore electricity to a large section of Louisiana's coast.
"Damage is incredible," Valiente said. "There are about 10 parishes that the electrical grids are completely collapsed and damaged, smashed, out — however you want to put it."
Louisiana's biggest electricity provider, Entergy, says it suffered "catastrophic damage" to its transmission system. The company is still assessing the damage to its network, said group president of utility operations Rod West.
"This particular [storm] had a significant impact because of its intensity and its proximity to the metropolitan New Orleans area," West told All Things Considered.
He said assessing the full scope of the damage typically takes a few days.
The company is prioritizing hospitals, police and fire departments and assisted living facilities, but it could be weeks before the "lion's share" of customers are back online, he said.
Comparisons to Katrina
Ida drew immediate comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, which landed in New Orleans exactly 16 years earlier and caused devastating floods across the city.
Edwards said that the levee system, which failed to hold floodwaters at bay during Katrina, performed better this time.
"The situation in New Orleans, as bad as it is today without the power, would be so much worse," Edwards said on the Today show. "All you have to do is go back 16 years and you kind of get a glimpse of what that could've been like."
Yet others feared Ida's aftermath could surpass that historic storm in terms of damage.
"It's going to be worse for the area that I work in, because Katrina took a turn and it hit toward Mississippi more than it hit over here," Marcell Rodriguez, the police chief of in the town of Jean Lafitte, told WWNO on Sunday. "I know New Orleans got nailed with it because of that levee failure. But the truth is, the winds wasn't like this."
Jean Lafitte is in Jefferson Parish about 30 minutes south of New Orleans.
"I'm 70 years old. I grew up back there and I've never seen anything like this," Rodriguez added. "This is going to be a nightmare."
Ida isn't over yet
Flash flooding with the possibility of dangerous storm surge conditions will continue along parts of the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, according to the National Weather Service.
Parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana will continue to experience rain and high winds Monday evening into Tuesday morning.
As Ida continues moving north, the Tennessee and Ohio valleys, the central and southern Appalachians, and the Mid-Atlantic can expect to see heavy rains and flooding through Wednesday.