NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hundreds of emergency responders were in place in Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had power restoration experts and generators at the ready as Hurricane Ida hit on Sunday as one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S., federal officials said.
New Orleans residents faced a massive cleanup effort and possibly weeks without power. Whole toppled trees blocked streets, pulled down power lines, covered yards and damaged homes.
Ida was blamed for at least one death — someone hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge. But with many roads impassable and cellphone service knocked out in places, the full extent of its fury was still coming into focus.
President Joe Biden remarked in a briefing with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, WH advisor Cedric Richmond and other state officials that, “We are doing the best we can” with disaster response.
The president said Monday that state officials should contact the White House if they need additional support — even though the effort is being led by FEMA.
“We’ll get you what you need if we can,” Biden said. “The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient. But it’s in moments like these where we can certainly see the power of government to respond to the needs of the people, if government’s prepared and if they respond.”
The Coast Guard prepositioned vessels for “deep water search and rescue efforts,” and Biden said federal support would remain in the region for “as long as it takes.”
Much of the response began days before landfall and included special precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the White House said.
FEMA deployed more than 100 ground ambulances and 20 air ambulances were deployed to help evacuate nursing homes in the storm’s path.
During the storm, four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Precautions were also being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the large shelters the American Red Cross is opening, including masking, rapid testing and social distancing.
The governor’s office said over 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters as of Monday morning, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped from flooded homes. Stephens said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so that they can keep their distance from one another.
“This is a COVID nightmare,” she said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”
U.S. health officials Monday declared public health emergencies for Louisiana and Mississippi, seeking to suspend government red tape that may get in the way of providing help to people affected by Hurricane Ida.
The emergency declaration by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra puts a pause on certain payment rules and other requirements that could become an unwelcome distraction for hospitals and doctors trying to provide services under stressful conditions.
Rescuers set out in hundreds of boats and helicopters to reach people trapped by floodwaters and utility crews mobilized Monday after a furious Hurricane Ida swamped the Louisiana coast and made a shambles of the electrical grid in the sticky, late-summer heat.
FEMA deployed 10 Incident Management Assistance Teams to support states — six in Louisiana, two in Alabama and two in Mississippi — and said three more teams were on standby to deploy if needed. More than 2,400 FEMA employees were in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and ready to provide additional help, FEMA said.
Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Jennah Durant said the agency’s personnel are coordinating with FEMA as well as state and local authorities in Louisiana. She said the agency had contacted the owners and operators of the 23 highly polluted Superfund sites in the state to ensure prestorm security preparations were being made.
Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for Louisiana on Friday, which authorized direct federal help for all 64 parishes, including power generation, air transportation, wildlife management assistance and water management.
The White House said Biden also spoke with the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama “to make clear that States have the full support of the Federal government to provide assistance as needed and to aid local emergency response efforts.”
Edwards told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Ida was a “major, major storm” that will test the state in ways it hasn’t been tested before, as it happens along with the pandemic.
“It’s impossible today to say how long the power will be out. And that begins to test your systems,” Edwards said, “whether it’s the opportunity to deliver water to the hospitals. You can’t run a ventilator without electricity.”
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