Hundreds Of Thousands Left Without Power After Hurricane Ida

Aug 30, 2021
Originally published on August 30, 2021 4:42 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As Tropical Storm Ida moved into Mississippi and Alabama today, officials in Louisiana began the laborious process of assessing the damage and cleaning up. The Category 4 hurricane made landfall yesterday and ripped a path of desolation through southeastern Louisiana. Two people have been confirmed dead. A tree fell on one man, and a motorist drowned in New Orleans. Governor John Bel Edwards said with this much destruction, he expects many more fatalities. NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from New Orleans. And, John, I understand you've been driving around the city today. Can you describe some of what you saw?

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Sure, Audie. It's just a frightful mess - uprooted trees everywhere, impassable roadways. Some cities have lost water pressure, so residents can't shower or flush. Some towns have instituted dawn-to-dusk curfews. And, you know, New Orleans is a city that loves its stately live oaks. And the limbs have just been blown down everywhere. You should see the city's iconic Audubon Park. It looks like the sight of some tree trimming festival. But thankfully, the levees held and kept the floodwaters out of the city and avoided a tragic repeat of Hurricane Katrina.

CORNISH: I also want to ask about the situation in terms of power because we've heard that more than a million homes and businesses right now are dark.

BURNETT: Right. And at the moment, that's the biggest problem here in New Orleans. The entire city and really the whole southeastern corner of the state is without electricity - no gas stations, no cafes. And without power, the public schools have closed their doors until further notice. The electric company Entergy says 2,000 miles of power lines are down. A giant transmission tower that carried eight high voltage lines collapsed into the Mississippi River. But the damage is worse the closer you get to the coast. We met Chris DuFrane, a special ed teacher who was trying to get back into the town of Lafitte to check on his house. It's surrounded by water in the best of times, and today it's a water world. He said standing water is up to the door handles of cars.

CHRIS DUFRANE: No way to get down there to check on property until the winds change and water starts receding.

BURNETT: They won't let you in.

DUFRANE: No, no, no - no one, which I understand. No. 1, I don't have a boat. And No. 2, they're not letting all these boats go in so people can go sightsee just to see the damage or this or that because their main task right now is search and rescue.

CORNISH: John, as you're speaking to people, what more were you hearing about kind of their greater concerns?

BURNETT: You know, it's just the realization, Audie, that all the modern services they've come to rely on are gone and they don't know when they'll be restored. Joe Thorn is a respiratory therapist in the town of Morero. He would have evacuated, but his hospital told him they had so many COVID patients he couldn't leave. We found him sitting in his minivan with his wife, listening to the radio, trying to get some news.

JOE THORN: Our electricity went out. The internet went out. Right now I don't have any cell phone access, so I'm having to kind of make it up as we go. I need to get my wife in a better situation. She's diabetic and doesn't do well with the heat.

CORNISH: This sounds incredibly heartbreaking. I want to ask about the people maybe who stayed behind to try to ride this out. There's always some.

BURNETT: Yeah. It was terrifying, and the thing about it is this hurricane slowed down and veered north, which brought stronger winds for hours to New Orleans. Here's Jules Cote, who lives in a handmade house that stands on stilts on the riverside of the Mississippi levee.

JULES COTE: Even though basically I felt that my house was safe - but, like, with the noise of the metal on the roof, you feel that everything's going to fall apart. And next time, since it appears that the house can take it, I'm going to board up, and I'm getting out of here.

BURNETT: And one thing is certain, Audie. With 150 mile per hour winds, Ida will take its place with Hurricane Laura just last year as one of the most powerful storms to strike Louisiana ever.

CORNISH: That's NPR's John Burnett.

Thank you.

BURNETT: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLF ALICE SONG, "TURN TO DUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.