Roads are blocked, stores are closed and the heat is punishing, with the National Weather Service issuing a heat advisory Tuesday for southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, predicting a heat index of 105 degrees (AFP)
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Hurricane Ida leaves residents without power amid punishing heat


Schools are closed indefinitely. Officials say power will be out for up to three weeks. Cell service is spotty, and hospitals already burdened by Covid-19 are relying on generators and water reserves since water and sewer outages are widespread.

Roads are blocked, stores are closed and the heat is punishing, with the National Weather Service issuing a heat advisory Tuesday for southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, predicting a heat index of 105 degrees.

“If you have evacuated, it’s pretty clear that now is not the time to return,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a news conference late Monday. “Quite frankly, we need to put as little demand on our water systems and our electric grid as possible.”

Ida has killed at least four people. Two people died late Monday in coastal Mississippi after driving into a massive sinkhole after a highway collapsed, according to the state’s Highway Patrol. Another 10 people were injured, 3 critically.

In Louisiana, one person was killed by a fallen tree, and another drowned while driving through floodwaters.

The St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s office said it is investigating a possible fatal alligator attack related to the storm, after a woman in Slidell said her husband was attacked and apparently killed while wading in floodwaters.

Ida made landfall Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane near Port Fourchon, La., south of New Orleans. Winds topped 150 miles an hour, sending more than 20 barges loose in the Mississippi River, toppling an electricity tower and downing cypress and live oak trees.

Ida arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region. Since Katrina, a $14.5 billion flood-protection system—including flood walls, levees, canals and barriers constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—has helped bolster storm defenses around New Orleans. The area surrounded by the flood-protection system seemed to flood far less than the suburbs outside it.

Officials said Monday they were pleased that the system appears to be working as intended but cautioned that flooding could continue to pose a threat.

Analytics firm CoreLogic Inc. estimated that 515,952 homes were affected by Ida’s winds, compared with Hurricane Katrina, which affected 792,824 homes. This may partly be because the storm hit a less populated area than Katrina, according to the firm.

There were more than one million people without power in Louisiana and 60,000 in Mississippi on Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outage reports from utilities. Service outages at 911 centers persisted, though New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted Monday that 911 service had been restored in the city.

More than 300,000 customers in Louisiana lacked water as of 3 p.m. Monday, the latest figures available, and another 300,000 were under boil-water advisories, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. About 3,000 customers in coastal Mississippi had boil-water alerts, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

In New Orleans, nearly all sewer pumping stations lost power, creating the potential for backups, according to the city’s Sewerage and Water Board. The utility relied on generators to start powering the stations back up, and meanwhile, it asked residents to limit water usage.

Officials are warning residents of Jefferson Parish, which encompasses suburbs like Metairie and Gretna west and south of New Orleans, that it could be 21 days before power is restored. They also say it could be five days until the water and sewer system is up and running again, prompting many residents who rode out the storm to pack up and leave, some to stay with family members out of state and others in search of hotel rooms hours from the city.

Entergy Corp., the region’s dominant power provider, said high winds took down 207 transmission lines, the high-voltage conduits that carry electricity from power plants to substations that connect to lower-voltage distribution lines. The damage is complex and widespread, making it difficult to predict how soon power might be restored, company officials said.

Parents and students braced for school closures of weeks to months. Officials at Tulane University, in the heart of New Orleans, said they planned to load any remaining students on Tuesday morning onto buses for Houston, more than a five-hour drive away. The university is closed until at least Sept. 12, according to the school website.

Many roads were blocked by fallen debris, and Interstate 10, a major east-west thoroughfare, was restricted to emergency responders only on Tuesday between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation, tweeted that drivers need to stay off the road, but said he was pleased that roughly 582,000 people evacuated from the southern parishes safely before the storm, based on an analysis of cellphone and other auto technology ping data.

Hospitals have already been strained by a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. Ochsner Health hospital system had evacuated or was moving 65 patients from two Louisiana hospitals in Raceland and Houma, executives said Monday, citing roof damage and water leaks.

The storm also disrupted the tourism industry for the foreseeable future in a town dependent on it.

Ty Fuller, 55 years old and a registered nurse from Lawrence, Kansas, had rented a house in the French Quarter through Vrbo for a week with five family members. “This sure isn’t what we expected,” he said. Three members of the party were able to get out by renting a U-Haul, but he and two of his sons were stranded. “We were not able to get out before the storm,” he said. “All the flights were closed and all the rental cars were gone.”

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