Hurricane Ida blew a slow, punishing path across Louisiana on Sunday, killing at least one person and severing power for more than a million as others awaited first light and rescue boats.
Hurricane Ida, one of the strongest storms to ever strike the U.S. mainland, made landfall shortly before noon Sunday, whipping the Port Fourchon area with 150 mph winds. Thirty miles later it hit Galliano, southwest of New Orleans, peeling off the roof of the Lady of the Sea General Hospital as it continued a devastating march northward.
“This is going to be much stronger than we usually see and, quite frankly, if you had to draw up the worst possible path for a hurricane in Louisiana, it would be something very, very close to what we’re seeing,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told The Associated Press.
Hurricane Ida pushed its way north with remarkable longevity, sustaining wind speeds dangerous enough to stymie rescue operations in flooded areas as night fell. The slow-moving storm continued to dump water on the region through Sunday, overwhelming drainage systems and threatening levee capacity.
New Orleans went dark around 7 p.m. as the storm caused “catastrophic damage” to the city’s transmission lines from Entergy, a major power provider. The outage gave the city a razor-thin margin of flooding error, as Entergy powered much of its drainage pumping system. The Sewerage and Water Board asked residents to limit water usage Sunday night as they scrambled to find backup power.
Residents in more rural areas reported major damage.
About 68 miles southwest of New Orleans, Albert Naquin sheltered in Pointe-aux-Chênes with seven others. Naquin, the Traditional Chief of the Isle De Jean Charles Tribe, watched Ida rip shingles from his home and peel away the front side of his house.
“I saw bits and pieces,” Naquin said. “My neighbor’s house broke in half.”
Naquin doesn’t believe that there will be much of the houses left, though the Pointe-aux-Chenes levee had held up as of 4 p.m. Sunday.
Ida claimed its first reported victim in Prairieville, a Baton Rouge suburb northwest of New Orleans. The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed the death, reporting a tree fell on a house. The victim was not immediately identified.
Reports of people trapped by floodwaters blanketed social media out of LaPlace as night fell Sunday and Ida continued to soak Lake Pontrachain. St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard told WWL-TV Sunday evening the area’s drainage system is gravity-based into the lake, but the amount of storm surge was overwhelming the system’s capacity.
At least one rescue organization attempted to begin rescue operations in LaPlace Sunday evening, but CrowdSource Rescue, a Texas-based disaster nonprofit, was forced to turn its boats back because of high winds. Hotard said crews were on stand-by at the local crisis operations center, but it was not yet safe to send people out in the storm.
Fifty miles southeast, storm surge pummeled a levee near Lafitte, “overtopping” the levee and flooding areas. Mayor Tom Kenner, Jr. told WLL-TV the unprecedented flooding led to “total devastation in the town.”
The area had been under a mandatory evacuation order, but Jean Lafitte Police Chief Marcel Rodriguez estimated Sunday about 400 people stayed behind. For some, it was a personal choice, but many could not heed the evacuation order for financial or physical reasons, Rodriguez told New Orleans Public Radio.
Kenner had not yet received any casualty reports by midnight, but he feared what first light might bring.
“I’m very scared, of when we start rescuing people, what we’re going to find,” Kenner said. “… We got hit hard. We got hit long. I know it created a dangerous situation for a lot of people, that water rose so fast. I pray we don’t find anything. But that danger was there.”
Parish leaders across the region urged residents to hunker down through Sunday night, as Ida slowly weakened into a Category 1 hurricane and winds slowed. At morning light, officials will begin to assess the true damage the storm left in its wake.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration requested by Edwards late Sunday, freeing up federal assistance for residents in at least 25 parishes that Edwards predicted would see long-term residential displacement.
Given the intensity of the storm, it is likely more casualties will be revealed in the coming days. The state’s health care system was under immense strain prior to Ida’s landfill, thanks to a deadly spike in COVID-19 cases that continues to fill its ICU beds.
Ochsner Health announced Sunday night it would evacuate dozens of patients from two hospitals in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes after Ida shattered windows and peeled off roofs, exposing patient rooms. Officials are also considering an evacuation plan for Chabert Medical Center in Houma after its chillers and boilers failed. CEO Warner Thomas stressed none of the damage had impacted care, though all hospitals had been forced to switch to generator power.
The energy utility Entergy said late Sunday it could be weeks before some residents see power restored.
Shortly after 2 a.m., CrowdSource Rescue updated its social media followers: The team who made an earlier, failed attempt to reach trapped LaPlace residents was making another run amid weakening winds.
“Cling to hope,” CrowdSource said. “Tonight will be long.”
Written by Melissa Brown