Search and rescue teams fanned out across southeast Louisiana on Monday, trying to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Ida and respond to calls for help that had gone unanswered as the region was battered by the storm.
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.
Much of 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 miles an hour. 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 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.”
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.
Officials had yet to assess the scope of the damage from debris and unmoored vessels, but could say, early on Monday, that the levees succeeded in keeping back the water.
“There were no levee breaches or overtopping” within the system managed by the Flood Protection Authority, said a spokeswoman, Kimberly Curth. “There have been no issues with our pumps.”
Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.
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 a 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, La., about 30 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, died after a tree fell on a house, according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation said on Twitter that fallen trees, downed power lines and other debris made many roads in south Louisiana “impassable.”
Twenty-two barges that were moored near Chamlette, east of New Orleans, broke loose in the storm and floated downstream on the Mississippi River, according to St. Bernard Parish officials.
John Lane, the parish’s executive director of coastal operations, said officials did not believe the barges posed a risk to levees in the area, but there was concern that they might strike essential infrastructure like the parish’s water intake system and oil refineries. He said the Coast Guard planned to corral the barges as soon as weather conditions allowed.
While the levee system protecting New Orleans appeared to hold through the worst of the storm, a 10-foot-high surge topped a levee in Plaquemines Parish, southeast of the city. That levee is outside the federal storm risk reduction system, in an area where the National Hurricane Center had warned that overtopping of local levees was possible.
It will take days just for utility crews to determine the extent of the storm damage to the New Orleans power grid, and far longer to restore power to the region, officials of Entergy Louisiana said on Monday.
“We have a lot of rebuilding ahead of us,’’ the company said on Twitter. “We’ll be better prepared to give restoration estimates once assessments are done.”
More than 850,000 of its customers in the region lost power, according to Entergy’s outage map, as Hurricane Ida thrashed much of Louisiana Sunday evening, snapping cables, damaging buildings, uprooting trees and spreading debris along roads.
Because of Ida’s “catastrophic intensity,” all eight transmission lines that deliver power to New Orleans were out of service, Entergy officials said on Sunday. The situation caused a load imbalance and resulted in a failure of all power generation in the region.
The city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said that the only power in the city was coming from customers’ own generators.
There were reports of communications disruptions as well. Telephone service appeared to be out in some of the hardest-hit areas of southeast Louisiana. And there were problems with mobile phone service.
AT&T said that because of wind damage, flooding and power loss, “we have significant outages in New Orleans and Baton Rouge,” and that its wireless network in Louisiana as a whole was operating at 60 percent of normal capacity. Key network facilities were knocked off line by the storm overnight, the company said, “and while some have already been restored, some facilities remain down and are inaccessible.”
A spokeswoman for Verizon said on Monday that the company was “still actively assessing the situation on the ground as it is safe to do so.” She added, “While we are seeing sites out of service in the heaviest hit areas, overlapping sites are offering some coverage to residents and first responders who remain there.” Many cell sites were running on backup generators and batteries, she said.
Verizon said it was providing unlimited calling, texting and data to its customers most affected by Hurricane Ida. AT&T said it was waiving overage charges for customers in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi through Saturday. T-Mobile said on Sunday that most T-Mobile and Sprint customers in the affected area would be offered free talk, text and unlimited data through Friday.
Some utility customers who were in the direct path of the hurricane may not see electric service restored for as long as three weeks, according to Entergy. But 90 percent of customers will have power back sooner, it said.
Requests for comment from Entergy about the hardest hit areas and the next stages of restoration were not immediately answered early Monday.
As the storm swept across the city on Sunday, Entergy said that crews from at least 22 states and Washington, D.C. were joining the recovery effort.
The company said it was working to assess damage and identify a path forward to restore power to areas that could still receive it. It added that it had provided backup generation to the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.
Including other utilities as well as Entergy, about one million customers in Louisiana were without power early Monday morning, according to reports compiled by PowerOutage.us. Most were in the southeastern part of the state. In Mississippi, about 130,000 customers were reported to be without power, mainly in the southwest, the website said.
Entergy Louisiana warned customers that broken power lines can remain hazardous.
“Just because you can’t see any apparent danger, doesn’t mean there isn’t any,” the company said on Monday. “Downed power lines may still be energized. Keep your distance.”
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Officials and those who chose to ride out the storm in New Orleans assessed destruction from Hurricane Ida on Monday Morning.
The $14.5 billion flood-protection system built around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina seems to have succeeded at keeping the city from going underwater again.
As of Monday morning, water from Hurricane Ida had not pushed past, or “overtopped,” any of the 192 miles of flood barriers that make up that system, according to the Flood Protection Authority, the local agency that runs the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. Nor have any of those barriers suffered a structural failure, called a breach.
And while most of New Orleans is without power, the pumps that are designed to move flood water out of the city still work, because those pumps run on generators, according to the flood authority.
In short, the system worked, according to Elizabeth Zimmerman, who ran disaster operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Obama administration.
“It’s a major accomplishment,” Ms. Zimmerman said. “The things that were built were a major step forward.”
But that success doesn’t mean residents are safe.
All eight transmissions lines that bring electricity into the city are out of service, according to a statement Sunday by Entergy, the power utility. On Monday, the company said 216 substations and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service.
“Those in the hardest-hit areas could experience power outages for weeks,” the company said in a statement.
Four hospitals were damaged in Louisiana, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. New Orleans’ 911 call system was down, Mayor LaToya Cantrell wrote on Twitter.
City officials pleaded with residents to stay off the roads. “Now is not the time to leave your home,” the New Orleans Police Department wrote on Twitter. “There is no power. Trees, limbs and lines are down everywhere.”
The fact that New Orleans has no electricity, despite huge investments in storm protection over the past 16 years, demonstrates the challenge of adapting to climate change, according to Daniel Kaniewski, who was in charge of resilience at FEMA until 2020.
The work that followed Katrina focused on preventing a repeat of catastrophic flooding, said Mr. Kaniewski, now a managing director at the professional services company Marsh McLennan. But that work focused less on other types of infrastructure, like the power grid.
“If we’re only preparing for the last disaster, we’ll never be prepared for the next one,” he said.
NEW ORLEANS — A drive around some New Orleans neighborhoods Monday morning revealed a city bruised but not beaten.
Uprooted trees and broken branches were everywhere, from the Bywater neighborhood to Uptown. St. Charles Avenue, a grand uptown boulevard, was clogged with tree limbs and littered with green. In the French Quarter, the streets seemed to have been washed almost clean.
A roof had come down in a twisted mess of tar from a pink four-story building at Toulouse and Decatur Streets, attracting TV news crews looking for signs of damage. An old brick building near City Hall had been dramatically blown to bits by the wind. Bricks were littered in heaps, and had crushed a nearby car.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell told New Orleanians to remain indoors, but a few had begun venturing out to walk their dogs, ride bikes and assess the state of things. Though the city looked sturdy and dry on the outside, they knew the drama would now unfold indoors, where the lights might not be coming on for days.
In the Algiers Point neighborhood, Melissa DeRussy, her husband, Husted, and their two teenage children were already out by 9 a.m., raking up leaves and small branches torn from the oak trees on their block. All over the neighborhood, the steady hum of generators blended with the sounds of neighbors checking in on one another and looking things over.
Roof shingles were sprinkled across lawns. A palm tree on one block was ripped in half about six feet from the ground, and a nearby magnolia looked as through it had been dropped into a blender.
Overnight, “it was a little exciting,” Ms. DeRussy said. “Every bump — from possibly the house next door — we had to investigate until it got dark. Then we just couldn’t investigate any more.”
With power knocked out across the city, Ms. DeRussy, who works for a local school, said the family’s next steps were up in the air.
“My colleagues are scattered across the Gulf Coast,” she said “There are just a lot of unknowns this morning.”
As the remnants of Hurricane Ida move farther inland in the coming days, the storm system is expected to lose strength, but continue to pose a danger to many parts of the Southeast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Ida, which was downgraded to a tropical storm early Monday morning, will likely bring heavy rainfall, and possibly severe flooding, to Louisiana, the southern parts of Mississippi and coastal communities in Alabama through the day. The rainfall totals could reach as much as 24 inches in some parts of southeast Louisiana.
“Heavy rain combined with storm surge has resulted in catastrophic impacts along the southeast coast of Louisiana, with considerable flash flooding and riverine flooding continuing farther inland,’’ the Weather Service said.
Coastal Alabama and the western parts of Florida could see five to 10 inches of rain through Tuesday morning, and in central Mississippi, up to a foot of rain.
Tornadoes are possible on Monday in southeast Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, southwest Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle.
On Monday morning, the system was about 40 miles southwest of Jackson, Miss., moving toward the north at 9 miles an hour with maximum sustained winds of 40 m.p.h. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 195 miles, mainly over water to the southeast of the center.
The storm is expected to turn northeast on Monday, tracking toward the Middle Tennessee Valley, including Humphreys County, where 20 people were killed this month as flash floods tore through communities there. Winds will weaken, but the area could see up to six inches of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Hurricane Center said.
The National Weather Service in Nashville issued a flood watch for most of Middle Tennessee starting on Monday night.
By Wednesday, the storm is forecast to move through the Upper Ohio Valley, dropping as much as six inches of rain, and then continue into the Northeast later in the week.
All of these areas could experience flash flooding, the Hurricane Center said.
Johnny Diaz and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.
BATON ROUGE, La. — After a powerful storm blows through Baton Rouge, the emergency room at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center generally fills with patients suffering from burns and injuries from falls and power tool accidents.
But as Hurricane Ida strafed Baton Rouge, hospital officials were grappling with an extra challenge. They were bracing for an influx of patients at a time when they are already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, which has swept across Louisiana with a renewed fury in recent weeks. On Saturday, for example, nine patients in the hospital died, and eight of those were Covid-19 patients.
Some patients were being kept on stretchers, and the ratio of nurses to patients has expanded.
“Our people are stretched, our devices are stretched,” said Catherine O’Neal, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “It’s not the level of care that we expect from our team or this hospital, but it is the level of care that we have been presented with and we’ll do our best.”
The hospital has received reinforcements from the state and from the U.S. Department of Defense, all supplementing a staff that has been worn thin as the pandemic flared.
Hospital officials are expecting patients to be brought in from other facilities in the region that have been severely damaged by the storm. “We can take on more, we will take on more,” said Stephanie Manson, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Conditions may be less than perfect, she said, but “it’s still a much better situation than where they were.”
Public health officials are also worried about how the hurricane will ultimately affect the pandemic in Louisiana, as people fleeing their homes pack in with relatives or into shelters with conditions conducive to the spread of the virus. Dr. O’Neal said that similar concerns were raised last year after Hurricane Laura hit Southwest Louisiana, but those fears were not realized. “We were on the downswing when it hit,” she said, “and there was a great deal of testing that went on in those shelters.”
But the outcome might be different this time. “We know that Delta is different and it’s far more contagious,” Dr. O’Neal said. “But we have learned to be patient.”
As they braced for the arrival of Hurricane Ida, oil and gas companies shut down more than 95 percent of their production in the Gulf of Mexico, making this storm the first of the year to significantly disrupt those industries.
Workers were evacuated from nearly half of the area’s staffed production platforms and from all 11 rigs in the Gulf, federal officials said on Saturday. BP, Chevron, Phillips and Shell were among the companies that closed facilities. Oil prices were likely to rise when trading resumed on Sunday night, analysts predicted.
The disruption could have an effect on gasoline prices ahead of Labor Day, traditionally one of the year’s high-demand peaks.
“It’s a little speculative to say yet what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be an event,” said Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. “This could lead to a mini-price spike.”
On Sunday, Colonial Pipeline, which carries refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas up the East Coast to New York, said it was temporarily halting fuel deliveries from Houston to Greensboro, N.C., Reuters reported. The company, which pre-emptively shut down its pipeline in May after a ransomware attack, said in a note to shippers that fuel would be available at its terminals throughout the Southeast, and that it would resume full service when it is safe to do so.
Hurricane Ida intensified overnight, becoming a Category 4 storm over the course of just a few hours. The rapid increase in strength raises questions about how much climate change is affecting hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. While researchers can’t say for sure whether human-caused climate change will mean longer or more active hurricane seasons in the future, there is broad agreement on one thing: Global warming is changing storms.
Scientists say that unusually warm Atlantic surface temperatures have helped to increase storm activity. “It’s very likely that human-caused climate change contributed to that anomalously warm ocean,” said James P. Kossin, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Climate change is making it more likely for hurricanes to behave in certain ways.”
Here are some of those ways.
1. Higher winds
There’s a solid scientific consensus that hurricanes are becoming more powerful.
Hurricanes are complex, but one of the key factors that determines how strong a given storm ultimately becomes is ocean surface temperature, because warmer water provides more of the energy that fuels storms.
“Potential intensity is going up,” said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We predicted it would go up 30 years ago, and the observations show it going up.”
Stronger winds mean downed power lines, damaged roofs and, when paired with rising sea levels, worse coastal flooding.
“Even if storms themselves weren’t changing, the storm surge is riding on an elevated sea level,” Dr. Emanuel said. He used New York City as an example, where sea levels have risen about a foot in the past century. “If Sandy’s storm surge had occurred in 1912 rather than 2012,” he said, “it probably wouldn’t have flooded Lower Manhattan.”
2. More rain
Warming also increases the amount of water vapor that the atmosphere can hold. In fact, every degree Celsius of warming allows the air to hold about 7 percent more water.
That means we can expect future storms to unleash higher amounts of rainfall.
3. Slower storms
Researchers do not yet know why storms are moving more slowly, but they are. Some say a slowdown in global atmospheric circulation, or global winds, could be partly to blame.
In a 2018 paper, Dr. Kossin found that hurricanes over the United States had slowed 17 percent since 1947. Combined with the increase in rain rates, storms are causing a 25 percent increase in local rainfall in the United States, he said.
Slower, wetter storms also worsen flooding. Dr. Kossin likened the problem to walking around your back yard while using a hose to spray water on the ground. If you walk fast, the water won’t have a chance to start pooling. But if you walk slowly, he said, “you’ll get a lot of rain below you.”
4. Wider-ranging storms
Because warmer water helps fuel hurricanes, climate change is enlarging the zone where hurricanes can form.
There’s a “migration of tropical cyclones out of the tropics and toward subtropics and middle latitudes,” Dr. Kossin said. That could mean more storms making landfall in higher latitudes, like in the United States or Japan.
5. More volatility
As the climate warms, researchers also say they expect storms to intensify more rapidly. Researchers are still unsure why it’s happening, but the trend appears to be clear.
In a 2017 paper based on climate and hurricane models, Dr. Emanuel found that storms that intensify rapidly — the ones that increase their wind speed by 70 miles per hour or more in the 24 hours before landfall — were rare in the period from 1976 through 2005. On average, he estimated, their likelihood in those years was equal to about once per century.
By the end of the 21st century, he found, those storms might form once every five or 10 years.
“It’s a forecaster’s nightmare,” Dr. Emanuel said. If a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane develops into a Category 4 hurricane overnight, he said, “there’s no time to evacuate people.”