NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Commercial flights resumed in New Orleans and power returned to parts of the business district Thursday, four days after Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast, but electricity, drinking water and fuel remained scarce across much of a sweltering Louisiana.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the system walloped parts of the Northeast, dumping record-breaking rain in a region that had not expected a serious blow and killing at least 26 people from Maryland to New York. Eleven people in New York City drowned in basement apartments.
New Orleans fared better than many other places because it was protected from catastrophic flooding by the levee system that was revamped after Hurricane Katrina. The power was back on before dawn in parts of the city’s business district and other downtown neighborhoods. Utility crews also restored electricity to several hospitals in Jefferson Parish and near Baton Rouge, officials said. Some streets were cleared of fallen trees and debris, and a few corner stores reopened.
The city’s main airport reopened to commercial flights for the first time since the hurricane. Delta was first airline to return, to be followed Friday by United Airlines and later by other carriers, officials said.
The overwhelming majority of homes were still dark. In seven parishes, at least 95% of customers remained without power Thursday. Only 35,000 of the 405,000 homes and businesses in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish had power Thursday morning, according to the poweroutage.us website. Statewide, 917,000 customers were without electricity, down from about 1.1 million at the height of the seventh named storm to hit Louisiana since the summer of 2020.
“This isn’t our first rodeo, but it’s our worst rodeo,” said Kirt LeBouef as he wiped away tears while looking at the damage to the Little Eagle restaurant in Golden Meadow, a 75-mile (120 kilometer) drive down the narrow highway from New Orleans toward the Gulf.
LeBouef’s family has owned the crawfish restaurant since 1920.
Power should be restored to most customers around Baton Rouge area by Sept. 8. after workers finish assessing damage, Entergy Louisiana President Philip May said Thursday. Damage assessments are not as far along in the harder-hit regions, so Entergy said it has no timetable for getting service to those areas, which include New Orleans.
In addition to the power outages, the storm tore apart water systems At least 600,000 customers had no running water. Hundreds of thousands of other homes and business were being told to boil their water before using it.
Gasoline shortages were also a problem for people trying to run generators and waiting in drive-thru lines for food and water. The lines for gas stretched for blocks in many places from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
President Joe Biden also ordered the release of extra fuel from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ensure a steady supply. He said he would also provide utilities with satellite images to help restore power.
“We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part,” said Biden, who was getting hourly updates on the recovery. “We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel and water deployed.”
Ida knocked out Port Fourchon, the primary hub to support drilling at offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and send that oil on its way to refineries. Port leaders said the damage to structures where the powerful eye came ashore was not as bad as feared.
“The majority of them are still good, and we can get things back up and running,” said Chett Chiasson, executive director for the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, who did not give an exact estimate on reopening the facilities.
The president was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage from Ida, which hit Sunday with 150 mph (230 kph) winds and was tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to strike the mainland U.S.
At least 10 deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including two 19-year-old Pike Electric employees electrocuted Tuesday as they were restoring power near Birmingham, Alabama.
Officials on Thursday classified the deaths of three Louisiana nursing home residents as storm-related. Investigators from the Louisiana Department of Health were kicked off the property Tuesday, the agency said.
Outside New Orleans, neighborhoods remained flooded and residents were still reeling. More than 1,200 people walked through some of Ida’s hardest-hit communities to look for people needing help, according to the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s office.
Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said 25% of the homes in his parish of 100,00 people were gone or had catastrophic damage, and up to 40% more had severe damage from winds that blew at over 100 mph (160 kph) for 12 hours.
“This storm is more than just a New Orleans event. Lafourche took the brunt of this storm,” Chaisson said at a briefing.
Evacuees considering returning home to Terrebonne Parish were warned by emergency officials on Twitter that “there are no shelters, no electricity, very limited resources for food, gasoline and supplies and absolutely no medical services.”
Louisiana’s largest hospital system, Ochsner Health, was considering opening a field hospital somewhere in Terrebonne or Lafourche parish because the shuttering of most of the hospitals in the area removed about 250 to 300 beds.
A spokesperson for Louisiana Gov, John Bel Edwards said the governor’s office was in discussions with local leaders “to make sure we can restore health care to the parish, and that does include discussions of a field hospital.” But the plans were not final..
Hard-hit areas in southeast Louisiana were also under a heat advisory Thursday. Forecasters warned that combined heat and humidity could make some areas feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius).
Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans; Stacey Plaisance in Lafitte, Louisiana; Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.