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Deaths rise as southern US tallies Hurricane Ida damage

Louisiana, Mississippi states take stock of disaster inflicted by powerful Ida as death toll rises to four.

An aerial view shows destroyed houses in a flooded area after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, in Grand Isle, Louisiana, US on August 31, 2021. (Reuters)

US states of Louisiana and Mississippi have taken stock of the disaster inflicted by powerful Hurricane Ida, as receding floodwaters began to reveal the full extent of the damage along the US Gulf Coast and the death toll rose to four.

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New Orleans was under a curfew on Tuesday evening, nearly two days after Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm, exactly 16 years after devastating Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people, made landfall.

Four deaths have been confirmed as crews began fanning out in boats and off-road vehicles to search communities cut off by the giant storm. A man was also missing after apparently being killed by an alligator.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Twitter she had signed an executive order mandating an overnight curfew in New Orleans, most of which was still entirely without power after the storm.

Power outage

Images of people being plucked from flooded cars and pictures of destroyed homes surfaced on social media, while the damage in New Orleans itself remained limited.

New Orleans Airport said all incoming and outgoing flights scheduled for Tuesday were cancelled, while airlines had scrapped nearly 200 flights on Wednesday.

One person was killed by a falling tree in Prairieville, while a second victim died trying to drive through floodwaters some 60 miles (95 kilometers) southeast in New Orleans, officials reported.

Ida knocked out power for more than a million properties across Louisiana, according to outage tracker PowerOutage.us, most of which still out Tuesday evening, leaving residents without air conditioning in late summer.

But power provider Entergy told New Orleans City Council members Tuesday morning that some electricity could be restored as early as Wednesday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

Hundreds of thousands of Louisianans are sweltering in the aftermath of Ida on with no electricity, no tap water, precious little gasoline and no clear idea of when things might improve.

Long lines that wrapped around the block formed at the few gas stations that had fuel and generator power to pump it. People cleared rotting food out of refrigerators. Neighbours shared generators and borrowed buckets of swimming pool water to bathe or to flush toilets.

The first to see power would likely be hospitals, many of which are dealing with a surge of Covid patients, and sewage and water treatment centers, the paper reported, saying it could still be days before average customers were reconnected.

Entergy had initially said it could take days to even assess the full extent of the damage.

Death toll expected to rise

In Mississippi, which has been buffeted by torrential rain, a road collapse left two people dead and 10 more injured, including three in critical condition, the state’s highway patrol said.

The death toll is expected to rise further, Louisiana Deputy Governor Billy Nungesser warned on Tuesday, especially in coastal areas directly hit by Ida where search and rescue operations are ongoing.

Meanwhile in St. Tammany Parish, police said a 71-year-old man was attacked and “apparently killed by an alligator while walking in flood waters following Hurricane Ida.”

Ida heads northeast

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for Louisiana and Mississippi, which gives the states access to federal aid.

Biden held a call with Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and the CEOs of two of the largest utilities in the Gulf Coast – Leo Denault of Entergy and Tom Fanning of Southern Co – on restoring power.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said his state had deployed more than 1,600 personnel for search and rescue operations, while the Pentagon said over 5,200 personnel from the military, federal emergency management and National Guard had been activated across several southern states.

Ida, now a tropical depression, was travelling northeast, threatening the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys. It was expected in the mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate crisis, posing an increasing threat to the world’s coastal communities.

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