Biden Phones-In Response to ‘Catastrophic’ Ida as Gulf Residents Suffer

'We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities...'

(Headline USA) Residents living amid the maze of rivers and bayous along the Gulf Coast retreated desperately to their attics or roofs and posted their addresses on social media with instructions for search-and-rescue teams on where to find them.

More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi—including all of New Orleans—were left without power as Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland, pushed through on Sunday.

The damage was so extensive that officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid was repaired.

At least four people were reported dead so far: a motorist who drowned in New Orleans; a person hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge; and two people killed Monday night when seven vehicles plunged into a 20-foot-deep hole near Lucedale, Mississippi, where a highway had collapsed after torrential rains.

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Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, said that given the level of destruction, “We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities.”

President Joe Biden met virtually on Monday with Edwards and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves along with mayors from cities and parishes most impacted by Hurricane Ida to receive an update on the storm’s impacts, and to discuss how the federal government can provide assistance.

“We are closely coordinating with State and local officials every step of the way,” Biden said.

The administration said more than 3,600 FEMA employees are deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. FEMA staged more than 3.4 million meals, millions of liters of water, more than 35,700 tarps, and roughly 200 generators in the region in advance of the storm.

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However, the lackluster effort thus far from the White House drew parallels to the Hurricane Katrina response, for which then-President George W. Bush was hammered in the media and elsewhere.

Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans exactly 16 years to the day that Ida made landfall on Sunday.

The Crescent City was likely to see a lower death toll than the roughly 1,800 deaths that Katrina was blamed for. Since then, New Orleans has invested billions of dollars in a major overhaul of its levees and a new system of water pumps.

But the outlying rural communities that rely instead on a system of canals and waterways to drain the flooding could suffer more.

While Bush was criticized for doing a fly-over to survey the damage, Biden—who was busy meeting with the Ukrainian president Tuesday and dealing with damage control from the US withdrawal in Afghanistan—stopped short of even that.

Residents expressed little confidence that the so-called comforter-in-chief would be there in their time of need.

“Biden prolly hasn’t made a visit anywhere in about a month,” said Trey Randazzo, a resident of Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, which received the brunt of the storm’s impact. “[D]ude could barely function.”

Randazzo, 18, told Headline USA via social media that he had ridden out the storm at home, even as other residents left for nearby cities such as Houston.

Witnesses in Lafourche reported seeing houseboats float away down the parish’s central bayou and shrimp boats, which provide the livelihood for many residents, being shredded and sunk.

Port Fourchon, which provides about 10-15% of the nation’s domestic oil and also 15% of its foreign exports, was one of the first places hit after the Category 4 hurricane made its way up from the Gulf of Mexico, temporarily shutting down about 95% of the region’s fuel supply.

As Ida was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday afternoon and continued to make its way inland, many roads remained impassable and cellphone service out in places.

Edwards’s office said damage to the power grid appeared “catastrophic”—dispiriting news for those without refrigeration or air conditioning during the dog days of summer, with highs forecast in the mid-80s to near 90 by midweek.

“There are certainly more questions than answers. I can’t tell you when the power is going to be restored. I can’t tell you when all the debris is going to be cleaned up and repairs made,” Edwards told a news conference. “But what I can tell you is we are going to work hard every day to deliver as much assistance as we can.”

On Monday, rescuers in boats, helicopters and high-water trucks brought more than 670 people in Louisiana trapped by floodwaters to safety. An additional 20 people were rescued in Mississippi. Crews planned to go door to door in hard-hit areas to make sure everyone got out safely.

Also stuck in New Orleans were tourists who didn’t get out before the storm. The airport canceled all incoming and outgoing commercial flights for a third day, saying the lack of power and water meant no air conditioning or restrooms.

Adding to the misery was the steamy weather. A heat advisory was issued for New Orleans and the rest of the region, with forecasters saying the combination of high temperatures and humidity could make it feel like 105 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday and 106 on Wednesday.

Power crews rushed into the region. Louisiana’s governor said 25,000 utility workers were on the ground in the state to help restore electricity, with more on the way.

A giant tower that carries key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area twisted and collapsed in the storm, and power company Entergy said more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were knocked out of service along with 216 substations. The storm also flattened utility poles, toppled trees onto power lines and caused transformers to explode.

In New Orleans, city officials told residents without power there was no reason to stay or return, at least for a few days.

Pamela Mitchell said she was thinking about leaving while she waited for the power to come back on, but her 14-year-old daughter, Michelle, was determined to stay and decided to clean out the refrigerator and put perishables in an ice chest.

Mitchell had already spent a hot and frightening night at home while Ida’s winds shrieked, and she thought the family could tough it out.

“We went a week before, with Zeta,” she said, recalling an outage during the hurricane that hit the city last fall.

Hank Fanberg said both of his neighbors had offered him access to their generators. He also had a plan for food: “I have a gas grill and charcoal grill.”

Some places are also facing shortages of drinking water. Eighteen water systems were out, affecting more than 312,000 people, and an additional 14 systems serving 329,000 people were under boil-water advisories, the governor said.

In Mississippi’s southwestern corner, entire neighborhoods were surrounded by floodwaters, and many roads were impassable. Several tornadoes were reported, including a suspected twister in Saraland, Alabama, that ripped part of the roof off a motel and flipped an 18-wheeler, injuring the driver.

Ida’s remnants continued to bring heavy rain and flooding to parts of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys. Flash flooding and mudslides were possible around Washington on Thursday and in New England on Friday.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press. Headline USA’s Ben Sellers also contributed to this report.

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