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Officials in Louisiana survey wreckage left by Hurricane Ida


By Jesús Jiménez, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Campbell Robertson


As people across southeastern Louisiana slowly began to take in the scale of damage from Hurricane Ida on Monday, a day-after accounting severely hindered by widespread power outages and limited phone service, search and rescue teams fanned out to respond to calls for help that had gone unanswered.


In Jefferson Parish, where there have been reports of people climbing into their attics to escape rising waters, the authorities had received at least 200 rescue calls since Sunday and crews were anxious to get to those who may still need their help, said Cynthia Lee Sheng, president of Jefferson Parish.


New Orleans remained without electricity. All eight transmission lines that deliver power to the city were knocked out of service by Ida, which made landfall late Sunday morning near Port Fourchon with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. By early Monday morning, the hurricane had weakened to a tropical storm as it moved inland.


Entergy, a major power company in Louisiana, said on Twitter on Monday that it would “likely take days to determine the extent of damage to our power grid and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region.”


New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged residents who had evacuated not to return to the city anytime soon, given the outages and other challenges it is facing in the aftermath of the storm. “Now is not the time for re-entry into the city of New Orleans,” she said at a news conference on Monday afternoon, later adding: “Again, if you evacuated, stay where you are. We will notify you when it is safe to go home.”


Dozens of streets in New Orleans were flooded with runoff from the storm’s heavy rains, according to the National Weather Service, which advised people to remain sheltered in place. But the system of levees, barriers and pumps that protect New Orleans appeared to have held firm against the onslaught of Hurricane Ida, officials said, passing the most dramatic test since being expanded and hardened after Hurricane Katrina.


Lee Sheng said in an interview that Jefferson Parish officials had not yet been able to make contact with residents of Grand Isle, a narrow beachy islet of homes on stilts facing the Gulf of Mexico, near where the storm came ashore. Though many residents evacuated before the storm, she estimated that about 40 people had remained behind.


“We lost contact with them yesterday,” she said.


Several small towns in the southern half of the parish, outside the giant storm protection system encircling New Orleans and some of its suburbs, were inundated, she said. The levees surrounding the towns had overtopped, she said, sending several hundred people who were there riding out the storm into attics and onto roofs.


“The further south you go, you are having very high water,” Lee Sheng said, adding that search and rescue teams went out at first light on Monday morning.


The northern end of the parish fared much better in terms of structural damage, but was facing what she called “a breakdown of systems.” No one in the parish had electricity. she said; phone communication was impossible in many areas; and broken water mains were draining the parish of its usable water. “Other than search and rescue today, that is the critical issue,” she said.


More than 240,000 people in the parish were affected by water outages, according to figures from the state department of health, and officials there, as with those in New Orleans, urged people who had left before the storm not to return immediately.


People venturing out on Monday in the hardest-hit parts of the state found smashed buildings in Houma, mangled infrastructure in Bridge City and streets still submerged in Laplace, the first hints at the regionwide fallout from a night of destruction. Laplace, a town of quiet subdivisions where many evacuees from New Orleans had decided to settle down after Katrina, was still badly flooded in areas, and desperate calls had gone out over social media all night for boat rescues.


Small communities that had slowly built back from hurricanes past were flooded again as local levees overtopped.


At least one local sheriff’s office in Louisiana took note that evacuees were anxious to return home to begin cleanup efforts, but warned, “Today is not that day.”


Officials in St. Tammany Parish put the matter more bluntly, advising residents not to go sightseeing.


As Ida moved through the state, the storm caused “catastrophic transmission damage” to the electrical system, leaving over 1 million utility customers without power.


The center of the storm crossed into western Mississippi on Monday, slowing and weakening as it sweeps northward. Its path is expected to curve northeastward through the day and evening, and then into the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday.


At least one death has been attributed to the storm. A man in Prairieville, Louisiana, about 30 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, died after a tree fell on a house, according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.

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