NEW ORLEANS, La (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards urged patience as he offered updates on the restoration of power and other infrastructure systems Monday, less than 24 hours after Hurricane Ida moved out of Southeast Louisiana.
“We’re not recovering yet. We’re still responding and trying to save lives, and then we will be transitioning into the response mode, as well. But I just want to reassure the people that we are going to get through this,” Edwards said in briefing Monday afternoon. “We’re going to continue to work just as hard as we can, every single day. But it isn’t going to be fast, and it’s not going to be perfect.”
In the meantime, Edwards urged evacuees not to try to return home, citing the widespread power outages, road closures and other dangerous conditions.
Ida left a trail of devastation and more than 1 million customers without power in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans. Edwards said 25,000 linemen area already working to restore power and several thousand more on on the way. Still, it could be weeks before the power grid is repaired.
Edwards said hospitals and dialysis centers will be prioritized.
Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Officials said they were evacuating scores of patients to other cities.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing as people remain trapped by floodwaters after one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland pushed through on Sunday and early Monday before weakening into a tropical storm.
Edwards said the Louisiana National Guard has rescued 191 citizens and 27 pets across Jefferson, St. John the Baptist and Orleans parishes using high-water vehicles, boats, and helicopters since early Monday morning. The have also been conducting helicopter hoist and lift operations in La Place and Jean Lafitte. More than 5,000 Guard soldiers are working on the disaster response, and more soldiers are expected from other states within days.
The governor said a task force of about 900 people from 15 different states led by the state fire marshal’s office has been working in collaboration with local first responders, spending much of the day Monday responding to calls for help that came in overnight from people that were trapped. More than 400 homes were checked and most were found unharmed, although “a number of individuals did require rescuing,” and one had a life-threatening emergency.
“The mission now is to go back and do the very organized grid search, where they do a primary search and they they’ll go back and do a secondary search and make sure that any survivors who need to be rescued are, in fact, rescued.”
“Saving lives is the number one priority,” he said. “Those search and rescue efforts are going to continue all day, and quite frankly for as long as necessary.”
The storm was blamed for at least two deaths as of late Monday afternoon — a motorist who drowned after attempting to drive through high water in New Orleans and a 60-year-old man hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge.
But with many roads impassable and cellphone service knocked out in places, the full extent the storm’s fury was still coming into focus.
“I had a number of conversations overnight and today with parish presidents and other officials who believe a death count attributable to the hurricane will go up because they see the catastrophic damage in some places that they have every reason to believe were inhabited at the time the damage occurred,” Edwards said.
The governor’s office said over 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of Monday morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. The governor’s spokesperson said 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,” Stephens said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”
Ida’s 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland. Its winds were down to 40 mph (64 kph) around midday Monday.
Ida was expected to pick up speed Monday night before dumping rain on the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys Tuesday, the Appalachian mountain region Wednesday and the nation’s capital on Thursday.
Forecasters said flash flooding and mudslides are possible along Ida’s path before it blows out to sea over New England on Friday.
Reeves reported from LaPlace, Louisiana. Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Michael Biesecker in Washington; Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.