Ida, the powerful hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday evening, continued to lash Louisiana after leaving more than a million customers without power, the entire city of New Orleans in the dark and at least one person dead.
The damage was so extensive that officials have warned it could be weeks before the power grid was repaired.
The CEO-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), which serves as the principal liaison between the federal government and the electric power industry, said late Monday crews are working to restore service in areas where it is safe to do so, but road closures, flooding and other accessibility challenges are impacting the ability of crews to reach some areas.
“As a result of Hurricane Ida’s catastrophic intensity, major transmission lines that deliver power into New Orleans and many rural areas are currently out of service, and crews continue to assess the extent of the damage,” ESCC said in a statement.
Speaking at a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing on Monday afternoon, President Biden echoed calls from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell for residents to “continue to shelter in place if it’s safe for them to do so.”
The president said that more than 5,000 members of the National Guard from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas have been activated in response to the storm. The Biden administration also has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work with electric companies in Louisiana and Mississippi in order to authorize the use of surveillance drones to assess “damage to energy infrastructure while ensuring those flights do not disrupt aerial search and rescue operations.”
“And I’ve also asked the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately make available any satellite imagery that can assist in assessing the damage in your states and cities, and parishes,” Biden said.
With communications still compromised, Cantrell told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day that her office had been in direct contact with AT&T and the local Entergy, which have boots on the ground.
“One thing that we also recognize is that we still have the ability to send text messages. AT&T and Entergy are doing everything that they can,” she said.
Biden said that the Federal Communications Commission has been working with cellular providers to allow roaming access.
“That agreement allows customers on one line with one provider to go to another provider if that provider’s down, so it allows customers to use roaming access carriers and the carriers that are up and running,” he said. “And that means you should be able to get a signal no matter who your carrier was or is.”
“We’re going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover,” Biden added.
In an update alongside the president, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said that the levee system had held up and that he believes there are closer to 2 million people without electricity right now.
In the Lafitte community, more than 150 people were still in danger Monday after the storm’s powerful surge topped levees, according to Fox News Weather Multimedia Journalist Robert Ray.
“We are still in life-saving mode here doing search and rescue the roads, the highways into the most affected area were completely clogged with debris, downed power lines, trees,” Edwards said. “We’re making really good progress. We actually started our ground search and rescue this morning at daylight.” The governor also noted that additional National Guardsmen would be coming to the state as soon as Tuesday.
As of 1 p.m. local time, Ida was located about 20 miles west-southwest of Jackson, Mississippi, with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph — down from 105 mph late Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was moving north-northeast near 9 mph.
A tropical storm and storm surge warning was still in effect for the mouth of the Pearl River to the Alabama-Florida Panhandle.
The agency noted that a few tornadoes are also possible, mainly across southeast Mississippi, southwest Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle through Monday night.
Edwards has said that Ida could be the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in more than 160 years.
On Sunday evening, all of New Orleans was without power, according to city officials. Entergy New Orleans, the city’s power supplier, said Ida’s intensity has caused catastrophic damage, including a “load imbalance to the company’s transmission and generation.”
The city relies on Entergy for backup power for the pumps that remove stormwater from city streets. Entergy said the only power in the city was coming from generators.
“We’re making every effort to learn more and rectify,” Entergy tweeted.
Entergy executives said Monday it would likely take days to determine the extent of the damage to the power grid in metro New Orleans, according to NOLA.com.
The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans lost Entergy power but said in an update that its teams were working to make up for it by using their own self-generated power sources.
Residents were urged to limit water usage at home to prevent sewage backups. They were asked to minimize wastewater leaving their homes by “not running your dishwasher or washing clothes.”
“We have worked to obtain backup power for some of these stations & we will mobilize those units when it is safe to traverse the city,” SWB New Orleans tweeted. “In order to prevent sewage backups, we have asked residents to limit water usage at home, thus decreasing the amount of wastewater we must remove.”
As of early Monday, more than one million customers were without power in Louisiana, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks nationwide outages. More than 113,000 customers also didn’t have power in Mississippi.
The first death related to Ida was reported in Prairieville, Louisiana, according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. The unidentified person was found dead following reports of a fallen tree on a home.
“Tonight, we have confirmed at least one death and sadly, we know there will be others. Thousands of our people are without power and there is untold damage to property across the impacted parishes,” Edwards wrote in a statement late Sunday.
Edwards had requested Biden declare a major disaster for Louisiana. Biden did so on Sunday, ordering federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas impacted by Hurricane Ida.
Significant flooding was reported late Sunday night in LaPlace, a community adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain, meteorologists in New Orleans said. Many people took to social media, pleading for boat rescues as the water rose.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, said rescue teams were being put together to save up to 200 people believed to be in immediate or imminent danger after tidal surge overtopped levees.
“The Town of Jean Lafitte Tidal Surge Levees have overtopped,” Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. wrote on Facebook. “Please prepare yourself if you live inside the tidal surge system.”
Kerner called it the “worst storm in our history,” according to WGNO-TV.
“We have a small group trying to take out the people in the most imminent danger,” Kerner told the station. “This is a very dangerous situation. I’ve never seen so much water in my life. We’ve lost our school and everything, but now with people’s lives, it has turned into a total rescue mission.”
“People’s lives are I believe at stake now,” he continued. “We are trying to get them out as soon as fast as we can and as soon as this weather [breaks] we are going to send an army to them.”
An evacuation order was made by the Plaquemines Parish government following reports of an apparent levee issue. People near the Alliance to Oakville Floodgate were asked to evacuate immediately after the failure.
“There has been a failure near Hwy 23 in Alliance,” the Plaquemines Parish government wrote on Facebook. “Flood waters are heading northbound on Hwy 23 from Alliance.”
Other images and videos on social media captured the devastation across Louisiana.
WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE
Comparisons to the Aug. 29, 2005, landfall of Katrina weighed heavily on residents bracing for Ida. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths as it caused levee breaches and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Ida’s hurricane-force winds had stretched 50 miles from the storm’s eye, or about half the size of Katrina, and a New Orleans’ infrastructure official emphasized that the city is in a “very different place than it was 16 years ago.”
The levee system has been massively overhauled since Katrina, Ramsey Green, deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, said before the worst of the storm hit. Green said if forecasts of up to 20 inches of rain prove true, the city’s underfunded and neglected network of pumps, underground pipes and surface canals likely won’t be able to keep up.
“On the forecast track, the center of Ida will move farther inland over southeastern Louisiana early this morning and move into southwestern Mississippi later this morning. Ida is then forecast to move over central and northeastern Mississippi this afternoon and tonight, and move across the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday,” the NHC added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report