Devastating Ida kills at least 1, leaves more than 1 million without power and many awaiting rescue from flooded homes

Ida Battering Louisiana With Winds Stronger Than Katrina
Trees sway in the wind from Hurricane Ida in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Hurricane Ida barreled into the Louisiana coast on Sunday, packing winds more powerful than Hurricane Katrina and a devastating storm surge that threatens to inundate New Orleans with mass flooding, power outages and destruction. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images

(CNN) — Hurricane Ida has ripped catastrophic gashes across southeastern Louisiana, killing at least one person, knocking out power and cell phone service and sending rescuers scrambling Monday morning to untold numbers of flooded homes where people were anxiously asking for help.

Ida, now a slow-moving tropical storm over southwestern Mississippi, still will pose a major threat for more flooding not just in the deep South but also into the Tennessee and Ohio valleys as it crawls north over the next few days.

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Rescuers are getting numerous reports of people who’ve climbed into attics or roofs as waters rose in their homes, especially in parishes just outside New Orleans.

About 15 people were helped off roofs and into boats early Monday in the city of Slidell alone, and rescuers in high-water vehicles still were taking people to safety in the lower side of town in the late morning, Mayor Greg Cromer said.

Because cell phone service is sporadic in much of the region, rescuers sometimes are having to find for themselves who needs help.

“We’ve had some people that … wadded out (of neighborhoods) and flagged police officers down and told us what is going on,” Cromer, mayor of the city northeast of New Orleans, told CNN on Monday morning.

“Seems like there’s hundreds, possibly more, people trapped in their houses, with some extent of water — from a foot deep to people in the attics,” Jordy Bloodsworth, fleet captain of the Louisiana Cajun Navy volunteer rescue group, told CNN earlier on Monday morning.

Bloodsworth was sending his teams to LaPlace, in St. John the Baptist Parish just west of New Orleans, where the National Weather Service and posts on social media have indicated numerous people have asked for rescue.

In LaPlace, Tiffany Miller was stuck in her attic Sunday night after floodwaters came into her home, she said. Perhaps 3 to 5 feet of water had entered homes in her subdivision, she told CNN affiliate WDSU.

“When we got in the attic, the water was right below my knees,” Miller said. “I know that we’re not in it by ourselves, and it’s going to be OK.”

In lower Lafitte south of New Orleans, people reportedly are on roofs, pleading for help as water is nearly reaching to the rooftops, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told CNN Monday morning.

“Right now the focus is on preserving life, and finding those folks and saving them,” she said.

Residents also were forced to their roofs in the nearby town of Jean Lafitte, Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. said, as levees were overtopped there.

“I’ve never seen water like this in my life,” Kerner said. “It just hit us in the worst way possible.”

Governor ‘fully expects the death count will go up’

Ida made landfall Sunday near southeastern Louisiana’s Port Fourchon as a Category 4 hurricane around 1 p.m. and slowly scraped across the state, delivering catastrophic winds and torrential rains to the same places for hours.

Video from these areas showed parts of roofs flying off homes and businesses, fallen trees lying on cars and homes, and high water taking over roads and communities in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents to check on their neighbors but otherwise refrain from traveling Monday morning because of flooded roadways, debris and downed power lines.

Edwards “fully expects the death count will go up considerably throughout the day” as searches and rescues go on, he told MSNBC on Monday.

“We know that individuals are out there waiting to be rescued because their homes are not habitable … please know that we have thousands of people out right now with high water vehicles and boats who are doing search and rescue,” the governor said in a video posted on Twitter.

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Ida slammed into Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, tying with 2020’s Hurricane Laura and the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest ever to hit the state.

More than 1 million customers in Louisiana were without power Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.US. Among them was all of Orleans Parish, which was hit with “catastrophic transmission damage,” the city office tweeted Sunday night. More than 130,000 customers were without power in Mississippi, PowerOutage.US reported.

Entergy Louisiana said some of its customers could be without power for weeks. And the strong winds, storm surge and flooding could leave parts of southeast Louisiana “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to a local hurricane statement from the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

In part of Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans, flash flooding was reported early Monday morning after a levee failed near Highway 23, according to the National Weather Service.

Authorities were rushing to evacuate people in the Jesuit Bend area there as water rushed up the highway, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said Monday.

‘This is turning into a rainmaker’

Ida will threaten more flooding Monday in the Deep South and elsewhere as it marches north over the next few days. Numerous counties and parishes were under flash flood warnings in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Monday morning.

“It’s the rainfall that we’re worried about now. This is turning into a rainmaker,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Monday morning.

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Another 4 to 8 inches of rain could fall Monday in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, bringing storm totals there to 10 to 24 inches, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm is expected to turn northeast Monday and head to the middle Tennessee Valley and Upper Ohio Valley through Wednesday.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency advised residents across the state Sunday to prepare for Ida, warning that heavy rain and flooding are possible in areas still recovering from a flood emergency last weekend.

Coastal Alabama to the far western Florida Panhandle could get storm totals of 6 to 15 inches of rain through Tuesday. Central Mississippi to far western Alabama could get 4 to 12 inches of rain through Monday.

Other areas, including the Middle Tennessee Valley, Ohio Valley, the central and southern Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic, could generally receive 3 to 6 inches of rain through Wednesday, the hurricane center said.

Tornadoes also will be a threat for the Gulf Coast through Monday, with the threat expanding into central and northern Mississippi and Alabama.

Hospitals damaged and roadways closed

President Joe Biden granted Edwards’ request for a major disaster declaration, ordering federal agencies Sunday night to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

Resources to help those affected by the storm have been impacted, with hospital staff relying on generators to keep life-saving machines running and sleeping on air mattresses in their workplaces. And New Orleans 9-1-1 reported technical difficulties amid power outages as of Monday morning, encouraging anyone experiencing an emergency to find their nearest fire station or approach the nearest officer.

Hospitals dealing with storm damage and attending to victims of the hurricane were largely already stretched by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Before going into this storm, our hospital was already almost at capacity,” Ochsner Health System’s Dr. Derek Smith told CNN. “We know the coming hours are going to be even more of a test.”

The hospital is running on generators, and staff there have been locked in — sleeping on air mattresses and working around the clock to care for patients, Smith said.

In Lafourche Parish southwest of New Orleans, two of the three hospitals sustained damage in Sunday’s epic storm, parish Sheriff Craig Webre told CNN.

A portion of the roof of The Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Galliano was ripped off as Ida came ashore, Webre told CNN. The county was also forced to relocate its emergency operations center to a different building after the first building’s roof began to leak Sunday, Webre told CNN.

Every road in Lafourche Parish was impassible Sunday night, Webre told CNN.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, hadn’t yet felt the worst of Ida when Mayor Toby Barker spoke to CNN Sunday night, but officials there were bracing for damage from the storm and stress on their hospitals.

“We know that both our hospitals are at capacity because of Covid, and we really need everyone tonight just to make good decisions,” Barker said.

The storm has also impacted access for rescuers to get in and residents to get out.

The Kerner Swing Bridge in Jefferson Parish south of New Orleans was hit by a barge Sunday as Ida beat down on Louisiana, according to the parish government, prompting officials to warn residents it may not be safe to drive across.

“Any residents that may still be in Lafitte are advised to not attempt to drive on this bridge. We do not believe it is structurally safe,” Jefferson Parish tweeted.

And due to fallen trees on the roadway, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development shut down about 22 miles of Interstate 10, a major thoroughfare that transits the state east to west.

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