NEW ORLEANS – Power should be restored to New Orleans by the middle of next week, utility officials said Friday, and sheriff's deputies warned people returning to communities outside the city to come equipped like survivalists because of the lack of basic services in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
The storm knocked out electricity to more than 1 million customers in Louisiana, but almost all lights in the city should be back on by Wednesday, according to Entergy, the company that provides power to New Orleans and much of southeast Louisiana in the storm’s path.
The lack of power has made a sultry stretch of summer hard to bear and added to woes in the aftermath of Ida. Louisiana authorities searched Friday for a man who shot another man to death after they both waited in a long line to fill up at a gas station in suburban New Orleans.
The utility issued a statement asking for patience and acknowledging the heat and misery in the storm's wake. More than 25,000 workers from 40 states are trying to fix 14,000 damaged poles, more than 2,200 broken transformers and more than 150 destroyed transmission structures.
“Please know that thousands of employees and contractors are currently in the field working day and night to restore power. We will continue working until every community is restored," said Rod West, a group president for utility operations.
The outlook was bleaker south and west of the city, where Ida's fury fully struck. The sheriff's office in Lafourche Parish cautioned returning residents about the difficult situation that awaited them — no power, no running water, little cellphone service and almost no gasoline.
“Residents can return to the parish outside of curfew times but are advised to come prepared with all provisions necessary to self-sustain,” deputies wrote on Facebook.
The utility offered no promises for when the lights will come back on in the parishes outside New Orleans, some of which were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more.
President Joe Biden arrived Friday to survey the damage. He met with local officials and toured a neighborhood in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered catastrophic wind and water damage that sheared off roofs and flooded homes. The president also planned a flyover tour of other hard-hit communities, including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish.
“I promise we’re going to have your back,” Biden said at the outset of a briefing by officials.
But some people could not wait for the power to come back, and a second evacuation was underway. New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish continue to help people find shelters or connect with family members outside the heavily damaged areas.
C.J. Conrady was at one of those centers Friday in Marrero with his brother and their mother. She was in a wheelchair after a surgery just before Ida struck left her with incisions all the way up her back. An intravenous line to give her antibiotics fell out the day before, and there was no refrigeration in their home to keep the insulin for her diabetes cold.
“We decided to tough it out and see if the power would come back on soon. It did not,” Conrady said.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city on Friday started helping to relocate residents of senior homes. At the Renaissance Place senior home, dozens of residents lined up to get on minibuses equipped with wheelchair lifts after city officials said they determined conditions at the facility were not safe and evacuated it.
Reggie Brown, 68, who was waiting to join fellow residents on a bus, said residents, many in wheelchairs, have been stuck at the facility since Ida. He said elevators stopped working three days ago and garbage was piling up inside. The residents were being taken to a state-run shelter, the mayor's office said.
“I’m getting on the last bus," Brown said. "I’m able-bodied.”
A phone message for the company that manages the Renaissance site, HSI Management Inc., was not immediately returned.
On Saturday, the city was to start providing daily transportation for other residents seeking to leave for public shelters, Cantrell said.
Gwen Warren was already trying to get out on Friday, waiting for a bus to Alexandria or maybe farther north to Monroe. She stayed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 knocked out power for weeks. But at 61, Warren said the stifling September weather was just too much.
“Any place the Lord blesses us to go out of this heat, where we’re able to get some food, get a hot bath and, you know, just some comfort, is fine,” Warren said.
In other developments, Louisiana health officials started an investigation into the deaths of four nursing home residents who were evacuated to a warehouse ahead of the severe weather.
The residents who died were among hundreds from seven nursing homes taken to the warehouse in Independence, where health officials received reports of people lying on mattresses on the floor, not being fed or changed and not being socially distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the state.
A coroner classified three of the deaths as storm-related.
When a large team of state health inspectors showed up on Tuesday to investigate the warehouse, the owner of the nursing homes demanded that they leave immediately, Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel said.
Neel identified the owner as Bob Dean. The Associated Press called several numbers connected to Dean and attorneys who have represented him in the past, but they did not respond.
Dean told Baton Rouge television station WAFB that the inspectors were on his property illegally.
“We only had five deaths within the six days, and normally with 850 people, you’ll have a couple a day, so we did really good with taking care of people," Dean said.
Louisiana’s health department said Friday that two dozen nursing homes have been evacuated from parishes hard-hit by Ida.
Gov. John Bel Edwards promised a full investigation and “aggressive legal action” if warranted and said none of the other nursing homes were having issues.
At least 14 deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including the three nursing home deaths. The Louisiana Department of Health on Friday reported an additional death — a 59-year-old man who was poisoned by carbon monoxide from a generator that was believed to be running inside his home. Several deaths in the aftermath of the storm have been blamed on carbon monoxide poisoning, which can happen if generators are run improperly.
“The most dangerous part of a hurricane is after the storm,” said Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez, who asked people to be careful around generators. ”Here it’s sadly happening again.”
More than 800,000 homes and businesses remained without power Friday evening across southeast Louisiana, according to the Public Service Commission. That’s about 36% of all utility customers statewide, but it's down from the peak of around 1.1 million five days ago as the storm arrived with top winds of 150 mph (230 kph). It is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to strike the mainland U.S.
Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge and Santana reported from Marrero. Associated Press writers Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.