Electricity is expected to be restored to “limited” portions of greater New Orleans by late Wednesday night, officials said, but it could be days longer before it and other Louisiana cities hit hard by Hurricane Ida have full power again.
Nearly one million customers in Louisiana were still without power early Wednesday morning, days after Ida tore through the state, causing flooding and knocking out the transmission lines that power New Orleans. Restarting the city’s power station and critical infrastructure such as hospitals are top priorities.
“We do have a glimmer of light or hope, if you will,” Patrick Hamby, a spokesman for Entergy, the largest utility in the state, said at a news conference in Jefferson Parish on Tuesday night. “The first light is coming.”
The news came with the caveat that it could be a few more days before Entergy would have a better estimate of when widespread power would be restored.
“It’s a methodical process but it’s here,” Mr. Hamby said.
In addition to the widespread power outages, much of southeastern Louisiana was reeling from the Category 4 hurricane.
Drake Foret, 31, a helicopter pilot from Houma, flew over some of the worst-hit areas on Tuesday, getting a bird’s-eye view of the damage and trying to transport people and supplies when he could.
He said the damage was very bad in places like Golden Meadow, Galliano, Cut Off and Larose — a string of towns in the marshy areas along Bayou Lafourche, where strong winds had ripped the roofs off people’s homes.
“That area took a really hard impact,” Mr. Foret said. “I would say at least half of all of the houses down there have severe damage.”
His parents’ home in Larose had been destroyed, and he flew there to check on them, landing briefly to give them a hug. But he has since found it difficult to reach them by phone because of spotty service.
“I think this is the worst damage this area has ever received, and I don’t think it will ever be the same again,” he said.
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana said at a news conference on Tuesday that the state faces a long recovery.
“This was a really bad storm, for many people worse than Katrina,” the congressman said. “We’ll continue pulling together, and we will get through this, like we’ve gotten through other disasters.”
Ida has weakened into a tropical depression and was expected to move northeast on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said, bringing the potential for three to eight inches of rain from the Mid-Atlantic to southern New England. The Weather Service in New York said on Twitter that heavy rain from the system could bring “high potential for significant flooding impacts” to the area.
The result of punishing wind and rain was evident in Louisiana, where Cynthia Lee Sheng, president of Jefferson Parish, said at a news conference that a caravan had been able to make it to Grand Isle.
It reported back that the barrier island was uninhabitable.
As a result of 10 to 12 breaks in a levee, Ms. Sheng said, 100 percent of structures were damaged and 40 percent were “either completely destroyed with just the piling showing, or maybe just a wall standing up on that building.”
With no electricity and “extremely fragile” sewer and water systems, Ms. Sheng said she encouraged those still in the area to leave.
“We do not have the services that a basic community has,” she said. “These are not conditions to be living in.”
The last time Peggy Gamberella, 63, heard from her younger sister, she said she had no drinking water or electricity and had lost everything in Hurricane Ida.
The sister, Patricia Killingsworth of Chauvin, La., has a chronic lung disease and has trouble breathing when it’s hot. She relies on a machine to help her breathe, but that device needs to be plugged in. After Ida knocked out her power, Ms. Killingsworth was able to use someone’s generator, her family said.
“I don’t see no help in sight for days,” Mr. Killingsworth, 61, wrote in a text message before pleading, “Send help if you can.”
That was on Monday evening; the family hasn’t heard from her since.
Ms. Gamberella said the family had been scrambling for two days to find help, but she lives more than 200 miles away, in Laurel, Miss.
“I just pray she is OK,” Ms. Gamberella said.
Roads are still blocked in some southern Louisiana communities throughout Terrebonne Parish because of downed trees and power lines, making access and rescue efforts difficult, according to Lauren Smith, volunteer coordinator and spokeswoman for the Cajun Navy Ground Force, a community-led disaster-response organization.
She said that while response teams work to clear the roads, finding fuel to power generators, chain saws, equipment and vehicles is one of the biggest challenges.
Having fuel for generators is especially critical for people with disabilities and medical issues, she said, citing a woman in need of hospice-level care whose generator went out on Monday.
“We had to basically take all the fuel that was running generators for our camp and take it over and fill up her generator” she said.
In general, communities throughout the Gulf Coast region are more likely to rely on backup generators than solar power, which can lead to problems if there are fuel shortages, according to Andrew Schroeder, vice president for research and analysis at Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian organization.
“Every day that goes by becomes an increasing challenge,” he said. “The first 24 hours, you have maybe not too many problems. By the time you’re into a week, and we’ve seen this with a lot of other places, then you have problems with dialysis, and you have problems with oxygen generation and ventilation.”
According to Department of Health and Human Services data, there are thousands of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity-dependent medical devices living in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne Parishes and other places currently without power.
In Lacombe, La., Megan Alfonso, 33, has been sheltering in place with her mother, Deborah Alfonso, since Saturday.
Her mother, 63, who has chronic lung disease, usually relies on an oxygen concentrator machine that needs to be plugged in. But after the power went out on Sunday afternoon, she switched to using oxygen tanks.
The family started out with five tanks; each one has enough air to last for about two and a half hours. By Tuesday morning, they were on their last tank.
“She’s more scared then anything,” Ms. Alfonso said of her mother. “She started not using them and just risking it so she can save them.”
After waiting for a response from emergency officials or response groups for hours, Ms. Alfonso decided to take a risk. On Tuesday evening, she drove to a medical supply office roughly 30 minutes away, even though she said the vehicle sounded “rough” after being submerged in water hours earlier.
She got four full tanks of oxygen — enough for 10 more hours.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida are expected to drop heavy rain across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England on Wednesday and Thursday, with life-threatening flash-flooding possible in much of those areas, meteorologists said.
The Mid-Atlantic and New England area should anticipate three to eight inches of rain on Wednesday and into Thursday from Ida, the National Weather Service said. The storm hit Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane but has since been downgraded to a tropical depression, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Significant & life-threatening flooding is forecast across the Mid-Atlantic into southern New England today ahead of T.D. Ida. 3-8 inches (with locally higher amounts) of rainfall will lead to widespread major flood impacts, especially in urban areas and areas of steep terrain. pic.twitter.com/jJ2mWcVcMl
— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) September 1, 2021
Widespread river flooding could occur in southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, particularly in the Monongahela, Potomac, Susquehanna, Delaware, and lower Hudson River basins, forecasters said.
The last storm to hit the Northeast was Henri, which made landfall in southwestern Rhode Island on Aug. 22 as a tropical storm, sending lashing bands of rain across much of New England that knocked out power in most of coastal Rhode Island, forced evacuations in Connecticut, stranded dozens of motorists in New Jersey and shattered rainfall records in New York City.
At its peak, Henri left more than 140,000 households without power from New Jersey to Maine, and in New York City, cars were left stranded in flooded streets.
Meteorologists were warning on Tuesday that similar high amounts of rain could hit the region as the tropical moisture associated with Ida intersects with strong wind bands over the upper levels of the atmosphere in the Northeast, creating heavy rainfalls.
A flash flood watch will be in effect from Wednesday night to Thursday for all of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Morning commutes on Thursday could be affected by drainage flooding in much of the New England and the Mid-Atlantic, particularly in metropolitan areas, meteorologists said.
In New York City and nearby areas, where a flash flood watch will also be in effect from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon, the remnants of Ida will bring a period of heavy rain and potential flash flooding, the Weather Service said.
“Ida is basically going to be exiting New England by Thursday night,” said Dan Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “But it’s going to drop heavy rain before it leaves.”
The effects of Hurricane Ida will be felt far from where it made landfall in southern Louisiana on Sunday. As it moves across the Upper Ohio Valley and toward the Northeast later in the week, it is likely to cause heavy downpours, including up to 10 inches of rain in some parts of the Mid-Atlantic. More than 80 million Americans were under a flood watch or advisory, with the majority associated with Ida’s heavy rains.
Although scientists are not yet certain about how climate change affects every characteristic of tropical cyclones, there is broad consensus that a warming climate will bring more extreme and heavy rainfall during storms. Warming increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn can produce more rain.
“We tend to think that once tropical storms move over land they run out of fuel,” said Rosimar Ríos-Barríos, a research meteorologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. But the winds in a tropical storm can extend thousands of miles from its center. In this case, even as Ida moves inland, Dr. Ríos-Barríos said, it will continue to draw in very warm, wet air from over the Gulf of Mexico and wrap it around its cyclone. That air can contribute to worsening rainfall.
“We are seeing this increase in extreme rainfall for all types of events,” said Suzana Camargo, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “With hurricanes, we would expect more intense rainfall. That’s what happened with Ida.”
The amount of rainfall associated with a tropical cyclone has to do with how hard it rains and for how long, which itself depends on a cyclone’s speed. Rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, the wettest tropical cyclone on record, dropped more than 60 inches in eastern Texas in 2017. The heavy rain, and subsequent flooding, was caused in part by the hurricane stalling near the coastline.
Ida was continuing to move at around 10 to 15 miles an hour, “an expected pace,” said Dr. Ríos-Barríos. The primary weather system in the United States moves in a general V-shaped pattern. Winds from the Western United States move south toward the Gulf of Mexico, then turn toward the northern Atlantic. But other weather systems can bring currents in opposing directions, changing the direction of a storm or altering its speed.
As a tropical cyclone moves farther inland, its path is driven by a contrast in temperature. Dr. Ríos-Barríos said that may be one reason central Pennsylvania and West Virginia are expected to see such extreme rainfall, up to 10 inches in some places. There, the cyclone may develop a warm front, which will lift the air, create clouds, and produce more rainfall.
Many of these areas in the storm’s path have already received exceptional rain this summer, leaving some rivers higher and soils more saturated, worsening the risk of flooding. The Middle Tennessee Valley, which experienced flash flooding earlier this month that killed at least 20 people, may see up to four inches of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Whether climate change made Ida and the scope of its flooding more likely, and if so, by how much, won’t be known until scientists can perform an attribution study, a type of research that quantifies the links between climate change and specific extreme weather events.
But scientists agree that Ida is a harbinger of future hurricanes. “If our planet continues to warm at the alarming pace that it is warming, then Ida is an example of what we might expect to see in the future,” said Dr. Ríos-Barríos. “That’s very scary.”