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When the sun rose over Louisiana on Monday morning in the wake of Hurricane Ida, it revealed a devastating scene.
From New Orleans to Houma to Grand Isle, roofs are ripped to shreds, buildings have collapsed and infrastructure is destroyed. Curfews are in effect across the state as emergency crews begin to assess the damage and launch rescue operations. One of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States has left behind nothing short of catastrophe.
“Catastrophic” damage to electrical systems plunge state into darkness
Jim Valiente, the emergency management director for Jefferson Parish told NPR on Monday “the damage is incredible”.
Late on Sunday, as winds from Ida intensified across the Greater New Orleans area, the region’s power grid took a “catastrophic” hit. A massive electrical tower, hundreds of feet tall, “twisted and collapsed” into the Mississippi River. As it fell, it plunged the state’s most populated area into total darkness. Nearly one in four homes and businesses in the state are currently without power and officials warn it could take up to six weeks to restore electricity.
Ret. Lt. General Russell Honoré, who lead rescue efforts after Katrina, warned about just how devastating the power outage will be. Honoré noted that because so many people in the city stayed behind, the lack of electricity and communication will have a more profound effect than it did in Katrina.
“We may have to do a major evacuation after the storm,” he said in an interview Monday morning. “It’s essentially setting society in the area back 100 years.”
Search and rescue operations begin across Louisiana
As Hurricane Ida plowed through the southeastern portion of the state, powerful winds and storm surge decimated communities near the coastline.
While hundreds of thousands fled in advance of the storm, many were unable to get out in time.
In Grand Isle, near where Ida made landfall, as many as 25 to 75 residents remained. Video from the island showed terrifying scenes as water, wind and waves ripped buildings apart.
A group of firefighters who stayed behind to aid rescue efforts are reportedly safe, but many areas on the island are unreachable. Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told reporters that reconnoissance operations in Grand Isle will likely have to be by air, because “there’s so much water we just can’t get in”.
President Lee Sheng also said at least 400 people remained in the nearby town of Jean Lafitte. Reports coming from the area suggest that people in the town were trapped in their attics last night as a result of rising water.
Tim Kerner, Jr., the mayor of Jean Lafitte said Hurricane Ida left the area “in total devastation”. He reported that the Sheriff’s department received as many as 200 calls for rescue, but efforts have been hindered by “catastrophic” damage.
Further north in Houma, videos from social media show buildings gutted by Ida’s winds. Josh Roberson, a reporter from Fox 8 in New Orleans, tweeted stunning videos from downtown Houma at daybreak.
“Severe damage is so widespread. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Roberson said.
Full scale of devastation still unknown
While most hurricanes almost immediately begin to lose power after making landfall, Ida was different. For nearly six hours after coming ashore at Port Fourchon, Louisiana with winds of 150mph, Ida remained a powerful Category 4 hurricane. As a result, areas as far as 30 miles inland experienced sustained winds of 130mph or greater.
The storm first made landfall just before 1PM local time. However, its sustained strength prompted the National Weather Service to extend an “extreme wind warning” until late into the evening. Meteorologists warned residents to prepare for at least an hour of winds equivalent to an EF-3 tornado.
Hurricane Ida has claimed the life of at least one individual, but Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards warns he “expects that number to rise”.
Officials are urging residents to remain in their homes as crews survey areas and begin rescue operations.
To support local organizations aiding with disaster relief, click here to donate through the Greater New Orleans Foundation.