NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rescuers set out in hundreds of boats and helicopters to reach people trapped by floodwaters and utility crews mobilized Monday after a furious Hurricane Ida swamped the Louisiana coast and made a shambles of the electrical grid in New Orleans and beyond in the sweltering, late-summer heat.
One of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland weakened into a tropical storm overnight as it pushed inland over Mississippi with torrential rain and shrieking winds, its danger far from over.
Ida was blamed for at least one death — someone hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge — but with many roads impassable and cellphone service knocked out in places, the full extent of its fury was still coming into focus.
Officials warned it could be weeks before power is fully restored.
The hurricane “came in and did everything that was advertised, unfortunately,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
All of New Orleans lost power right around sunset Sunday as the hurricane blew ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, leading to an uneasy night of pouring rain and howling wind.
When daylight came, streets were littered with tree branches and some roads were blocked. While it was still early, there were no immediate reports of the catastrophic flooding city officials had feared.
“I had a long miserable night,” said Chris Atkins, who was in his New Orleans home when he heard a “kaboom” and all the sheetrock in the living room fell into the house. A short time later, the whole side of the living room fell onto his neighbor’s driveway.
“Lucky the whole thing didn’t fall inward. It would have killed us,” he said.
Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
The governor’s office said over 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of Monday morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for the governor, said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so that they can keep their distance from one another.
“This is a COVID nightmare,” Stephens said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”