LAFAYETTE, Louisiana—Rebecca Rome evacuated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That Hurricane Ida arrived on the 16th anniversary of that nightmare was not lost on her as Louisiana woke up to the trail of devastation left behind by the latest monster storm.
“It was really nerve wracking all day yesterday,” Rome told The Daily Beast. “It was like we all have PTSD. It really brought back some bad memories.”
Rome said her own family had made out OK, at least so far, this go around, in their new home in Donaldsville. Neighbors were not as fortunate.
“There are trees down everywhere; no one has power,” she said. “We have water damage, as some of the roof and shingles were ripped off, but thankfully, it’s not too bad. Our neighbors had trees come down on their houses and cars and roofs completely ripped off. We were lucky.”
She added that they were, like hundreds of thousands of others, still in the dark about when the power might come back. This as more desperate residents across the state were sharing their addresses on social media after becoming trapped inside their attics or on their rooftops.
“Don’t know where we can get gas for generators,” Rome added. “If it was just localized, we could head into Baton Rouge or Gonzalez for gas, but everything’s down everywhere. Even the interstates are closed, so we can’t really leave now either, so we don’t know what we’re going to do at the moment.”
Ida weakened to a tropical storm early Monday but the danger and destruction from what was a Category 4 hurricane remained. Over a million people in Louisiana were without power and the storm knocked out 911 services in New Orleans. The hurricane, which has been blamed for at least two deaths—that number was expected to rise Monday—was so strong that it reversed the Mississippi River’s direction of flow.
Mike Cooper, the president of St. Tammany Parish, which was pummeled by the hurricane late Sunday, described “widespread damage” during a Facebook live from an emergency operations center.
“Well we’ve just been through a horrendous night, with winds, rain, gusts, water coming up, rivers rising, power outages, and it’s incredible,” he said. “We see trees down in just about every block,” he added.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” he said, noting that powerful winds had lasted throughout the night.
He warned of rising rivers “swollen at the banks” that he anticipated to cause flooding, which has already begun in some low-lying areas.
Police in Slidell, Louisiana, said Monday that they had rescued between 15 and 20 people on Monday morning, with four being rescued from a roof as flood waters rose.
The Louisiana National Guard confirmed Monday morning that the weather had stabilized enough to begin search-and-rescue efforts, writing in an early tweet that troops were going door-to-door in LaPlace.
Jordy Bloodsworth of the Cajun Navy, a volunteer group that helps search-and-rescue efforts after natural disasters, told the Today show that as many as 1,000 people could be in need of rescue after Ida. Bloodsworth and his fellow volunteers were heading into LaPlace with boats after coordinating with the sheriff to begin their rescue mission.
“It’s looking like another bad storm,” the Cajun Navy fleet captain said. “There’ll be downed trees and downed power lines to go around when you’re trying to go around water and put boats in... [But] one of the beautiful things about Louisiana, we put out a call for help or if we need more help, it shows up and it shows up pretty quick.”
One LaPlace family trapped in their attic spoke to local network WDSU before their cellphone service cut out; they urged rescuers to send boats to save them and their neighbors. “When we got in the attic, the water was right below my knees,” said Tiffany Miller. “For the water to get that high in my house, the water outside needs to be at least waist-deep.”
As 911 services dropped out, social networks were inundated with messages from desperate residents and their friends and families. One message read: “Family with 9 kids. Roof collapsed. Phone dead.” Another said: “Two elderly, one disabled and medically fragile younger adult in attic.” A third said: “Please, send rescue to my brother and sister... They are in the attic of their home. They need a boat to get out. Please, go get them!”
Sam Brock of NBC News reported that thousands of people could be trapped in their homes in LaPlace and the surrounding areas. “Social media is the resource for folks,” he said. “We know one family who tweeted that there’s five people inside their home, including a young boy and girl. These are the measures that people have to resort to right now.”
Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told NBC News that the parish had still to respond to at least 200 urgent rescue calls. The parish was also potentially facing 3 weeks without power and several days without water, according to WWL-TV.
Entergy Louisiana officials said on Monday that it would take days for crews to assess the depth of the storm’s impact to the New Orleans power grid, and likely much longer to get power back up in the region.
“The bottom line is [that] Entergy does not know what is going to happen,” New Orleans City Councilmember Joseph Giarrusso told The Daily Beast in an email. “It could be power is resumed within days or could be much longer. I think we need to be prepared for the worst but hope for the best.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed that over 1,600 personnel had been deployed to carry out search-and-rescue missions across the state. As the AP reported, two initial deaths had been tallied: one outside Baton Rouge, and another in New Orleans.
But even when they had managed to steer clear of the worst of the storm, residents were facing a long road ahead.
“This is the first time since Katrina I decided to leave,” Kelli Bladsacker Scardino, who owns a restaurant in ravaged Grand Isle, told The Daily Beast said, texting from her brother-in-law’s home in Belle Chasse.
“I had to think of my daughter.”
When Scardino is on the island, she runs Yum’s, a restaurant on Louisiana Highway 1, a block from the Grand Isle Police Department. And, like the rest of the buildings at ground level there, the restaurant took on water as Ida passed, she said.
“The restaurant is fine,” Scardino expalined with the casual air of someone used to the pitfalls of coastal living. “We had flood waters, but it is still standing.”
Unlike previous storms, though, Ida was a direct and powerful hit on the area.
“It’ll be weeks before they let us back in,” Scardino said.
—with reporting from Louisiana by Dwayne Fatherree