Hurricane Ida's aftermath, recovery uneven across Louisiana


In New Orleans, city crews worked to clear streets of debris and stores began reopening. Outside New Orleans, neighborhoods remained flooded and residents were still reeling from damage.

In much of New Orleans, an ongoing power outage after Hurricane Ida is making the sweltering summer unbearable. But in some areas outside the city, that misery is compounded by a lack of water, flooded neighborhoods and severely damaged homes.

A week after Hurricane Ida struck, the storm's aftermath — and progress in recovering from it — are being felt unevenly across affected communities in Louisiana. The levee system revamped after Katrina protected New Orleans from catastrophic flooding after Ida struck on Sunday with 150 mph (230 kph) winds, tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the mainland U.S.

The power was back on before dawn Thursday in parts of the city's central business district, Uptown, Midtown, New Orleans East and the Carrollton area, the electricity company Entergy announced. Utility crews also restored power to Ochsner's main hospital campus in Jefferson Parish and several hospitals near Baton Rouge.

About 35,000 of the 405,000 homes and businesses in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish had power Thursday morning, according to the website. Statewide, 917,000 customers were without electricity, down from about 1.1 million at the height of the storm.

The hurricane tore apart water systems too. At least 600,000 customers had no running water, while hundreds of thousands of other homes and business were being told to boil their water before using it.

At least five deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi, while at least 15 deaths have been confirmed in Maryland and the Northeast, with officials warning there likely will be more. Ida's remnants have caused catastrophic flooding in New York City and surrounding areas. Rivers overran their banks in Pennsylvania, and tornadoes struck around Philadelphia.

In New Orleans, city crews completely cleared some streets of fallen trees and debris and a few corner stores reopened.

Outside New Orleans, neighborhoods remained flooded and residents were still reeling from damage to their homes and property. More than 1,200 people were walking through some of Ida's hardest-hit communities to look for those needing help, according to the Louisiana Fire Marshal's office. President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage, the White House said.

Gayle Lawrence lost two cars, refrigerators and almost everything in her garage to floodwaters in southern Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. The garage was filled with marsh grass and dead fish. Scores of other homes in the neighborhood were also flooded.

"The house is solid. It didn't even move. But when the water came up, it destroyed everything," she said.

In Jefferson Parish, authorities on Wednesday were still waiting for floodwaters to recede enough for trucks carrying food, water and repair supplies to begin moving into Lafitte and other low-lying communities. The parish neighbors New Orleans and saw widespread destruction from Ida.

Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said a gas shortage was hampering hospital staff, food bank employees and other critical workers.

"Today, we're a broken community," Sheng told a news conference. "It won't always be that way."

Evacuees considering returning home to Terrebonne Parish were warned by emergency officials on Twitter that "there are no shelters, no electricity, very limited resources for food, gasoline and supplies and absolutely no medical services."

The leader of Louisiana's largest hospital system, Ochsner Health, is considering opening a field hospital somewhere in Terrebonne or Lafourche parish because the shuttering of most of the hospitals in the area removed about 250 to 300 beds. When "folks come back, this is going to definitely put a strain on the situation," Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas told reporters.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he's pleased that power returned for some people.

"I'm very mindful that it's a start, and only a start," he told a news conference.

As the staggering scope of the disaster began to come into focus, with a private firm estimating that total damage from Ida could exceed $50 billion, making it among the costliest U.S. hurricanes.

Hard-hit areas in southeast Louisiana were under a heat advisory Thursday, with forecasters warning combined heat and humidity could make some areas feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius).

New Orleans officials opened seven places where people could get a meal and sit in air conditioning. The city was also using 70 transit buses as cooling sites, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.

Karen Evans charged electronic devices at a New Orleans gym where four tall fans stirred the air. Her home in the city was not damaged, but she was struggling without power.

"The great challenge is living a life in a sweltering place without air conditioning," she said.