Hundreds of thousands still without power in Louisiana

As cleanup continues from Hurricane Ida
Originally Published: 04 SEP 21 10:47 ET
Updated: 04 SEP 21 13:35 ET

(CNN) — Hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents still are enduring power outages in dangerous heat nearly a week after deadly Hurricane Ida struck — and long lines outside gas stations are underlining people’s struggle to stay cool and mobile.

In the wind-damaged city of Kenner near New Orleans, the mayor was blunt Saturday when asked what his city needed most.

“Power,” Mayor Ben Zahn told CNN. “We suffered a lot. … When you don’t have power, you need ice. So we have been trying to give as much ice out as we can, because people need to keep things as cold as possible.”

Around 700,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana were without power as of early Thursday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US.

And high temperatures will be in the high 80s or low 90s in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi on Saturday, with the heat index — what the temperature feels like with humidity and other factors — generally in the mid-90s, the forecasters said.

Many gas stations are inoperable or don’t have fuel — and those that do have people waiting outside them for hours.

Outside an uptown New Orleans gas station Saturday morning, motorists waited in massive, serpentine lines even several hours before the facility was due to open.

Many were looking for gas either to fuel their vehicles — some to drive out of the region, and some just to keep their cars going to serve as air-conditioned places to rest — or to fuel their at-home generators to keep electricity going.

Eric Mertz drove 20 miles Friday from his home in neighboring St. Charles Parish to wait for gas outside a New Orleans gas station, where he believed the lines were shorter than they were near his home.

He still waited hours.

“I’m just wondering where the help is. I don’t have air conditioning. No lights. I had Covid last year. I was in the ICU for 14 days, and I’m on oxygen (treatments now). And I don’t have no electricity — it’s rough.”

A few miles away, in Metairie, police say a man was shot and killed while in line at a gas station on Friday. A suspect turned himself in Friday night, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto told CNN Saturday.

Lopinto suggested the shooting related to frayed nerves over the wait to get gas.

“It is unbelievable that people can’t act like adults in this situation. (…) For somebody to lose their life over getting gas, is absolutely ridiculous,” Lopinto told reporters Friday.

Entergy Louisiana, which provides electric service to more than 1 million customers, projects power will be restored to the vast majority of its customers by Wednesday, CNN has reported.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the timeline that has been provided by Entergy will be complete by those deadlines,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Friday.

The storm made landfall August 29 as a Category 4 hurricane, leading to the deaths of at least 13 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and devastating infrastructure there. Remnants of the storm then pummeled the East Coast on Wednesday, triggering flash floods and tornadoes and killing dozens more.

As Louisiana tries to recover, the state attorney general announced Friday an investigation into the deaths of some nursing home residents who were being sheltered in a warehouse ahead of the storm.

Four residents had died by the time the investigation was announced, though a fifth died after being removed from the shelter, officials said Friday.

More than 800 residents of seven nursing homes had been brought to the warehouse in the town of Independence ahead of the storm, and all were removed by Thursday over concerns about conditions there, officials said. The town’s police chief said it appeared the operators were struggling to meet patient needs and the facility struggled to maintain power, and the attorney general has said the investigation will focus on who sent patients to the “apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility.”

Biden visits Louisiana: ‘I promise to have your backs’

As of Saturday morning, the majority of gas stations in Baton Rouge (74.3%) and New Orleans (65.6%) were without gas, according to outages compiled by GasBuddy. More than half of the gas stations in Lafayette similarly didn’t have gas.

Those outages are being driven by a combination of spiking demand and complications supplying the fuel caused by power outages, analysts said.

President Joe Biden visited Louisiana on Friday to survey damage from Hurricane Ida, acknowledged people’s frustration at the pace of power restoration, and promised federal help.

“We’re not going to leave any community behind, rural, city, coastal, and I promise to have your backs until this gets done,” Biden said.

Thursday afternoon, the Biden administration announced it would be releasing 1.5 million barrels of crude oil from America’s emergency stockpile, hoping to eventually help ease gas shortages.

In severely flooded St. John the Baptist Parish west of New Orleans, some water service is being restored, but much of the area still is without necessities, parish President Jaclyn Hotard said.

“There is no power anywhere in the parish, and we’re still struggling with communications,” Hotard told CNN’s Bianna Golodryga on Friday.

“When we were in neighborhoods today just assessing needs on the ground, many people don’t know of all of the places we have available for pod sites, with ice and water and MREs and other food distribution, because they don’t have any communications and/or they don’t have any electricity to charge up the communications they do have,” Hotard said.

Universities still adapting

Universities that canceled classes and evacuated students from the area still are adapting.

Tulane University in New Orleans is rebuilding its fall academic calendar, including refund dates and holidays, the university said Friday.

Tulane previously had said classes would be canceled until at least mid-September. The university this week helped bus students to Houston, where the school planned to provide food and accommodations until students could fly home.

Tulane said power restoration at the university is underway, and told students it would respond to inquiries as soon as it could.

“We understand that some milestones typically included in the academic calendar are not yet published. Decisions on these dates are forthcoming, and we will update the Fall 2021 Academic Calendar and notify students as these details are published,” the university said.

Loyola University New Orleans also canceled classes for at least two weeks and shuttled students to Mississippi and Alabama.

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