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In Ida's aftermath, no quick relief in sight

by The Associated Press | September 2, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana residents still reeling from flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Ida scrambled for food, gas, water and relief from the sweltering heat as thousands of line workers toiled to restore electricity and officials vowed to set up more sites where people could get free meals and cool off.

There was a glimmer of hope early Wednesday when power company Entergy announced its crews had turned "power on for some customers in Eastern New Orleans." Still, power and water outages affected hundreds of thousands of people, many of them with no way to get immediate relief.

"I don't have a car. I don't have no choice but to stay," said Charles Harris, 58, as he looked for a place to eat Tuesday in a New Orleans' neighborhood where Ida snapped utility poles and brought down power lines two days earlier.

Harris had no access to a generator and said the heat was starting to wear him down. New Orleans and the rest of the region were under a heat advisory, with forecasters saying the combination of high temperatures and humidity could make it feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday.

New Orleans officials announced seven places around the city where people could get a meal and sit in air conditioning. The city was also using 70 transit buses as cooling sites and will have drive-thru food, water and ice distribution locations set up on Wednesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said state officials also were working to set up distribution locations in other areas around the state.

Cantrell ordered a nighttime curfew Tuesday, calling it an effort to prevent crime after Hurricane Ida left the entire city without power. Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said there had been some arrests for stealing.

Though some lights were back on Wednesday, Entergy didn't immediately say how many homes and business had electricity restored. A company statement said reconnecting all of New Orleans "will still take time given the significant damage" to the city's power grid.

The company said it was looking to first restore power to "critical infrastructure" such as hospitals, nursing homes and first responders.

Cantrell acknowledged there would frustration in the days ahead.

"We know it's hot. We know we do not have any power, and that continues to be a priority," she told a news conference.

The number of deaths from the hurricane climbed to at least five in Louisiana and Mississippi when Jefferson Parish authorities confirmed Wednesday a woman was found dead in her home in the community of Lafitte. Jefferson Parish sheriff's Capt. Jason Rivarde said the woman was found during rescue operations Monday. He gave no further details.

The dead include two people killed Monday night when seven vehicles plunged into a 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) hole near Lucedale, Mississippi, where a highway had collapsed after torrential rains. Among them was construction worker Kent Brown, a "well-liked" 49-year-old father of two, his brother Keith Brown said. Edwards said he expects the death toll to rise.

The New Orleans airport, closed since the storm hit, planned to reopen Wednesday for "very limited" flights, an airport statement said. Only American Airlines had flights scheduled Wednesday, but officials "hope for more normal operations later in the week," it said.

Edwards on Tuesday surveyed damage from the storm, which caused massive flooding and structure damage in Houma, LaPlace and other communities outside New Orleans.

The barrier island of Grand Isle, which bore Ida's full fury, is "uninhabitable," with every building damaged, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told a news conference. There are also numerous breaks in the levee system and a strong odor of natural gas, she said.

More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi were left without power when Ida slammed the electric grid on Sunday with its 150 mph (240 kph) winds, toppling a major transmission tower and knocking out thousands of miles of lines and hundreds of substations. Karen Clark & Company, a risk-modeling firm, estimated that insured losses could total $18 billion.

An estimated 25,000-plus utility workers labored to restore electricity, but officials said it could take weeks.

Kisha Brown, a medical receptionist who rode out the storm with her two daughters at her apartment, was among hundreds of people who turned to one of the sites in New Orleans distributing free meals. She lost her power and said her food supply was dwindling. But her other major concern was the heat.

"My last resort would probably be to go to the hospital," she said. "They'll let me in if I show my ID."

Other residents relied on generators, raising concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning. Our Lady of the Lake hospital in Baton Rouge had already treated more than a dozen people for carbon monoxide poisoning by late Tuesday afternoon, spokesman Ryan Cross said.

Elsewhere in New Orleans, drivers lined up for roughly a quarter-mile, waiting to get into a Costco that was one of the few spots in the city with gasoline. At other gas stations, motorists occasionally pulled up to the pumps, saw the handles covered in plastic bags and drove off.

About 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of the city in LaPlace, Enola Vappie and her sons sat in her carport hoping to catch a breeze as the temperature inside her damaged home creeped up without power to run air conditioning.

The 78-year-old Vappie was one of about 441,000 people across the state to lose water after floodwaters and power outages crippled treatment plants. But she was already thinking about what she'll do when it comes back.

"I can't wait to have a good bubble bath," she said. "I might live in that tub."

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