Hurricane Ida Tears Down Louisiana

Ida’s has claimed its sixth victim on Wednesday 1 after two electrical workers in Alabama died while repairing power grid damage caused by the storm, extreme winds of 150mph, and flooding.

This death toll is expected to grow in the following hours and days as there seems to be “hundreds, possibly more, people trapped in their houses, with some extent of water from a foot deep to people in the attics,” fleet captain of the Louisiana Cajun Navy volunteer rescue group, Jordy Bloodsworth told CNN.

Ida has now moved away from southern Louisiana and, as it continues to move inland, it has weakened to a tropical storm (category 1 storm). Nevertheless, the National Hurricane Centre has warned that heavy rain could still bring flooding to Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. It threatens to cause more flooding also into the Tennessee and Ohio valleys as it crawls north.

On Sunday the 29 of August, Ida made landfall south of New Orleans as a category 4 hurricane causing severe damage to buildings, roads, trees, and power lines. 1,1 million locals remain without power, and it could be up to more than three weeks to restore it, Entergy has said. “While 90% of customers will be restored sooner, customers in the hardest-hit areas should plan for the possibility of experiencing extended power outages”, Entergy New Orleans president and CEO, Deanna Rodriguez declared.

Ida was deemed “life-threatening”, drawing comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, a category 3 storm that killed 1,800 people in 2005. However, New Orleans’ flood defenses, strengthened after Katrina’s disaster, have done their job with Governor John Bel Edwards saying that the levee systems have “performed magnificently” saving the state from even more severe flooding. “It would be a different story altogether if any of those levee systems had failed,” Edwards voiced. 

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell added that while the worst-case scenario did not happen, it is still not safe for residents to return to their homes.

The disaster in numbers

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in the state, releasing extra funds for rescue and recovery efforts. On Monday the 30 of August, Biden met virtually with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, along with mayors from cities most impacted by Hurricane Ida to receive an update on the storm’s impacts, according to the news reports.

Around 5,000 National Guard members have been deployed to aid the zone and more than 25,000 workers from around the country have been mobilized to support power restoration in the state. The administration has more than 3,600 FEMA employees deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

While 671 people have been saved by Local, state, and federal rescuers from floods, around 2,200 evacuees are staying in 41 shelters, with the intention of being moved to hotels as soon as possible so they can keep their distance from one another.

Catastrophe in the middle of a pandemic

Louisiana was battling its fourth and worst coronavirus surge before Ida struck, so the hurricane has further strained hospitals that were dealing with 2,450 patients, according to Louisiana Gov.

Before the hurricane, Louisiana’s overcrowded facilities couldn’t fully evacuate, as NPR reported.

Now in southern Mississippi, health officials have been diverting critical care patients to hospitals in the northern part of the state.

Although it is tracked that 41.4% of Louisiana’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 49.5% has at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been advising people staying in public shelters to practice social distancing, and wash hands frequently. In the meantime, the Louisiana Department of Health has closed its community-based testing and vaccine sites.

Not only are hospitals overcrowded, but they have suffered from powerful winds and water intrusion. “Pretty much every hospital we have had some sort of roof issue,” said Warner Thomas, CEO of Ochsner, the largest hospital system in Louisiana. In total, four Louisiana hospitals are damaged and 39 medical facilities are operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Evacuations of patients to other cities are still underway.

Is it normal to have such hurricanes? Analysts are stating that while the impact of climate change on the frequency of storms is unclear, increased sea surface temperatures warm the air above, making more energy available to drive hurricanes. What we are seeing in Louisiana could be a graphic representation of harsher rainfalls in the future. As always, ordinary people will be the ones to suffer most and have their lives disrupted.

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