At least two dead and more than 1m without power as Hurricane Ida batters Louisiana

Restaurants with no refrigeration are serving up food to the hungry before it can spoil

At least two people were killed and more than a million left without power in New Orleans as Hurricane Ida inundated coastal Louisiana on a deadly path through the Gulf Coast that threatened more destruction and saw evacuees cram into shelters, prompting fears of a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Ida is one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the US. It had been classified as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall on Sunday, forcing those who did not flee their homes to brace themselves for the worst. It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way inland on Monday.

President Joe Biden declared Hurricane Ida a major disaster on Monday and ordered federal aid to help recovery efforts and preemptively declared Mississippi to be in a state of emergency.

Speaking from the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington on Monday, Mr Biden spoke with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Tate Reeves, governor of Mississippi, where the storm is now heading.

"You have the full resources of this government behind you. As soon as the storm passes, we're going to put the country's full might behind the rescue and recovery," Mr Biden said.

Ida was blamed for at least one death in Baton Rouge when a man was hit by a falling tree and another in New Orleans when a motorist drowned, but Mr Edwards predicts the number of causalities to rise.

"The damage here is catastrophic and we are still in search-and-rescue mode," said Mr Edwards.

"The rescue areas are clogged with downed trees and power lines and that's making it difficult to get to people. We're just now responding to 911 calls that came in last night because of the phones not working."

Rescuers have saved at least 671 people by Monday afternoon, Mr Edwards said.

Slower winds meant that Ida lingered longer in one place, battering large trees and parts of the infrastructure such as power lines and mobile phone towers, damaging them beyond repair.

Mr Edwards estimated that at least two million homes are without power and stressed the main priority was getting the state's hospitals back online.

Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, and more than 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of Monday morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. Authorities feared a spike of Covid-19 cases as residents crammed into shelters.

Water services for about 255,000 people went out of service after the storm, the state health department said on Monday.

Mandatory evacuations were issued across several areas on Friday, including for those living outside the levee system in New Orleans, but not the city's residents. The levees, so far, have held and were reinforced after Katarina.

“The one good news here, the good news this morning anyway, all of our levee systems performed extremely well, especially the hurricane risk reduction system around New Orleans and even non-federal levees in Lafourche, Terrebonne parish performed extremely well," Mr Edwards said.

Though they were strongly encouraged to leave, some local residents who fell outside mandatory evacuation zones were left frustrated because evacuation orders affect insurance claims and recovery.

Silver Linings

"Restaurants are losing thousands of dollars due to tossing inventory, unable to use their insurance because there was no mandatory evacuation. That’s a [expletive] racket," New Orleans resident Todd Shelton told The National.

Mr Shelton and his wife, who works in the restaurant industry, had to relocate from their home in the Mid-City neighbourhood of New Orleans to a hotel, along with their dog.

In spite of their dire situation, the Sheltons, along with other city dwellers, are finding a way to lend a helping hand and by making sure the hungry get fed.

"One of the things I think has been coolest to see over the past few days is people who are popping up to provide food for workers or for people who might just want a simple bite. I spent the morning cleaning out the walk in at one of city’s best restaurants and all food donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, said Shelton.

"The Howlin’ Wolf, one of the city’s most popular music venues, is making sandwiches to hand out. It’s great to see people come together in this way."

Ida hit on the same date Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier, coming ashore 72 kilometres west of where Category 3 Katrina first made landfall.

Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths and catastrophic flooding took place when the levees broke.

Reports of major structural damage were emerging, according to FEMA. Analysts estimate the storm could cost insurers at least $15 billion.

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said the agency is "getting reports of significant structural damage across the area."

“We are going to have a long road over the next few days," Ms Criswell said.

Updated: August 31st 2021, 11:32 PM
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