Rescuers on Monday combed through the “catastrophic” damage Hurricane Ida did to Louisiana, a day after the fierce storm killed at least two people, stranded others in rising floodwaters and sheared the roofs off homes.
The city of New Orleans was still mostly without power over 24 hours after Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm, exactly 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, wreaking deadly havoc.
“The biggest concern is we’re still doing search and rescue and we have individuals all across southeast Louisiana… who are in a bad place,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told NBC’s “Today”.
Two deaths have been confirmed as crews began fanning out in boats and off-road vehicles to search communities cut off by the hurricane.
Images of people being plucked from flooded cars and pictures of destroyed homes surfaced on social media, while the damage in New Orleans itself remained limited.
Ida — which was downgraded to a tropical depression on Monday — knocked out power for all of New Orleans, with more than a million properties across Louisiana without power, according to outage tracker PowerOutage.US.
“I was there 16 years ago. The wind seems worse this time but the damage seems less bad,” said French Quarter resident Dereck Terry, surveying his neighborhood in flip flops and a t-shirt, umbrella in hand.
“I have a broken window. Some tiles from the roof are on the streets and water came inside,” the 53-year-old retired pharmacist added.
According to Edwards the levee system in the affected parishes had “really held up very well, otherwise we would be facing much more problems today.”
– ‘Total devastation’ –
In the town of Jean Lafitte, just south of New Orleans, mayor Tim Kerner said the rapidly rising waters had overtopped the 7.5-foot-high (2.3-meter) levees.
“Total devastation, catastrophic, our town levees have been overtopped,” Kerner told ABC-affiliate WGNO.
“We have anywhere between 75 to 200 people stranded in Barataria,” after a barge took out a bridge to the island.
Cynthia Lee Sheng, president of Jefferson Parish covering part of the Greater New Orleans area, said people sheltered in their attics.
Several residents of LaPlace, just upstream from New Orleans, posted appeals for help on social media, saying they were trapped by rising flood waters.
“The damage is really catastrophic,” Edwards told Today, adding that Ida had “delivered the surge that was forecasted. The wind that was forecasted and the rain.”
President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for Louisiana and Mississippi, which gives the states access to federal aid.
One person was killed by a falling tree in Prairieville, 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office said.
A second victim died while trying to drive through floodwaters in New Orleans, the Louisiana Department of Health tweeted.
Edwards reported on Twitter that Louisiana had deployed more than 1,600 personnel to conduct search and rescue across the state.
US Army Major General Hank Taylor told journalists at a Pentagon briefing that military, federal emergency management officials and the National Guard had activated more than 5,200 personnel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama.
– ‘Way less debris’ –
Most residents had heeded warnings of catastrophic damage and authorities’ instructions to flee.
“I stayed for Katrina and from what I’ve seen so far there is way less debris in the streets than after Katrina,” Mike, who has lived in the French Quarter, told AFP Monday, declining to give his last name.
The memory of Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005, is still fresh in the state, where it caused some 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
The National Hurricane Center issued warnings of storm surges and flash floods over portions of southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and southern Alabama as Ida travels northeast.
As of 2100 GMT Monday, Ida was located about 20 miles northwest of Jackson, Mississippi, with maximum sustained winds of 20 miles per hour.
The storm system is expected to track across the United States all the way to the mid-Atlantic through Wednesday, creating the potential for flash flooding along the way.
Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate change, posing an increasing threat to the world’s coastal communities.
Despair, anger in Louisiana in wake of Hurricane Ida
Laplace, United States (AFP) Aug 30, 2021 – Seeing her ceiling caved in, her garage door smashed and the basketball hoop overturned in her yard, Lxchelle Arceneaux looked on with despair Monday at the devastation left behind by powerful Hurricane Ida, which swept through her town near New Orleans the night before.
“My children were terrified,” the 46-year-old told AFP in LaPlace, Louisiana, dressed all in blue and standing at the front door of her wrecked home. “I never heard wind like this before”.
Arceneaux, her husband and children took shelter in a bedroom after Ida — which blasted ashore with winds around 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour — blew in a window that they had tried to barricade with wooden planks and duct tape.
“We started taking water inside from the roof. The fire alarm started ringing,” she said, her voice battling against the drone of emergency generators that were fired up after the town’s power went down.
The family tried to bale out some of the water, but did not have enough buckets.
Towards Sunday night, part of the ceiling sagged in, allowing the downpour into her living room, leaving moisture bubbles that were still visible Monday on her white wallpaper.
– Exasperation –
Arceneaux was angry with local authorities who, she said, had not given sufficient information on the course of the hurricane and the danger facing this city of 30,000, nestled on the east bank of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and the state capital Baton Rouge.
“We were advised of the hurricane but we didn’t know the eye of the storm had shifted closer to us,” she said, exasperation in her voice.
“We didn’t receive the flash flood warning until before the storm was already here,” she added.
The parish of St. John issued voluntary and non-mandatory evacuation orders ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ida, which killed at least one person and knocked out electricity for over one million customers.
“I really wish I would have left and not experienced this,” she said.
Her neighbor, Carlo Barber, 22, was also surprised by the ferocity of Ida, which filled his house with almost five inches (12 centimeters) of water, scattered rooftiles all over his yard and destroyed his fence.
“When the place flooded, I took my truck and slept in the parking lot of Home Depot,” a nationwide DIY store, said the fresh-faced student.
“It was worst than what I expected,” he said. “When hurricane Isaac happened last year we didn’t get water in the house.”
“We were not prepared for Ida, but next time we will be,” Barber added.
– Submerged –
Many of LaPlace’s roads were still underwater on Monday, or blocked by downed trees, power lines and toppled utility poles.
“We rescued more than a hundred people,” said Jonathan Walker, a deputy with the St. John Parish sheriffs office and who was moving around town in the back of an army truck.
Among those rescued was Anderson Martinez, 17, who was taken out aboard a National Guard helicopter that landed in the parking lot of a shopping area with about 10 people on board, including three young children.
Martinez, together with his 14-year-old brother and their mother, had taken refuge in a hotel in the city when Ida hit. But when they wanted to leave their makeshift shelter after the storm, they found they were cut off by floodwater.
“The water was two meters deep,” he said, pushing a cart with all his belongings wrapped up in plastic bags. The teenager was desperately trying to reach his house, just a 10-minute drive away, to see if it was still standing.