Millions in Louisiana struggle with heat, loss of power in the aftermath of Ida

Residents along the Gulf Coast are struggling after Hurricane Ida, which left at least five people dead. Soaring temperatures added to the struggles of more than a million people in and surrounding New Orleans who lost power and have no air conditioning, or any real estimates of when power will be restored. Communities reporter Roby Chavez, who is based in New Orleans, reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are struggling with the huge impact of Hurricane Ida tonight. Temperatures felt like they reached 100 degrees today. Power is out for more than a million people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. There's no air conditioning, and no real sense of when it will be restored.

    At least five people are dead. Officials warned those who evacuated to stay away for now.

    Roby Chavez, our "NewsHour" communities reporter based in New Orleans, begins our coverage.

  • Roby Chavez:

    On Tuesday, the huge task of surveying the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ida continued. Rescue operations picked up after initially being hampered by widespread flooding, downed power lines and scattered debris, all caused by the fifth most powerful storm to hit the United States.

    Hundreds of residents trapped by floodwaters have been brought to safety by rescue teams in some of the hardest-hit areas, including in the town of LaPlace, just outside of New Orleans.

  • Olivia Alexis, LaPlace Resident:

    We woke up and the water would just kept rising and rising.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Olivia and Joyce Alexis were evacuated today by the Louisiana National Guard. They initially thought they were safe, but were caught off guard as waters overflowed from nearby rivers and lakes.

  • Joyce Alexis, LaPlace Resident:

    To actually go through it, it was traumatic.

  • Olivia Alexis:

    Go through it again.

  • Joyce Alexis:

    Because it made me very anxious, because you relive all these previous experiences that you have had. And — but I hope this will be a better thing.

  • Theophilus Charles, Houma Resident:

    I got nowhere, and I done lost everything I had.

  • Roby Chavez:

    In nearby Houma, Louisiana, residents like 70 year-old Theophilus Charles were still struggling to grasp the devastation.

    Charles has lived in Houma his entire life. He says he had nowhere to go as Hurricane Ida blasted ashore on Sunday.

  • Theophilus Charles:

    I was born here. We went through all the major hurricanes here. So, I figure I have got to stay here and ride this one out. But I couldn't.

  • Roby Chavez:

    The entire city of New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of other residents remain without power during sweltering summer heat. Long lines have been building for fuel as well.

    With no power and no water, Louisiana's Governor John Bel Edwards spoke to reporters this morning from LaPlace. He urged people not to return to their homes.

  • Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA):

    Now is really the most dangerous time over the next or couple of weeks. And so we are asking people to be patient. We're asking people to be careful.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Dangerous moments like this are only expected to increase. Scientists say hurricanes like Ida are likely to become more devastating. That's due in part to climate change, which is adding warmer waters, a natural fuel for hurricanes.

    In New Orleans, many breathed a sigh of relief in the immediate aftermath of Ida that a levee system overhauled after Hurricane Katrina held. The federal government spent billions of dollars to fortify the city's defenses, including installing these refurbished pumps to keep the water out.

    Colleen and Al Ryan stayed in their home in the New Orleans' Lakeview neighborhood, which saw flooding and lost power. Still, they're relieved it wasn't worse.

  • Al Ryan, New Orleans Resident:

    It seems like it worked pretty good this time. And the power is the power. It's — you learn to live with it and — or you move somewhere else.

  • Colleen Ryan, New Orleans Resident:

    We were just hopeful. And as it turned out, it — you know, it really — I think people are pleased that it wasn't another Katrina.

  • Roby Chavez:

    But now, with power outages expected to last weeks, they and many of their neighbors are leaving town.

    Back in LaPlace, where there's little levee protection, residents like Lakeisha Hammett are still trying to make sense of what's happened.

  • Lakeisha Hammett, LaPlace Resident:

    It honestly felt like a movie. Like, I just kept thinking, it's going to be over in 30 minutes. I survived it, but it's not something that I really would want anyone to go through.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Clearly, the area is battered and crippled. Governor John Bel Edwards said today it will be a long road to recovery. He is urging patience.

    As you can see behind me, some of the work on the power lines now happening. They literally will have to repair thousands of power lines — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, give us a sense. We know what a hot day this is, what the weather is like there. What are people saying to you?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Look, Judy, today, the temperature was in the upper 90s. It felt like well over 100. Folks did not have water. They did not have cell phone service. They're still trying to reach out to their relatives.

    We saw so many people being evacuated by boat, bringing everything that they owned in their hands. Many of them got on — in the National Guard vehicle. They didn't know where they were going or what they were going to do next.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Roby, we know this, of course, is happening as Louisiana is one of the worst states in the country affected by COVID, the pandemic.

    How is the hurricane affecting the state's ability to deal with that?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Well, many of the hospitals are still full. They have been operating on generator power, but they don't believe that can go on forever.

    And so they have started to evacuate some of those patients to other areas. Nursing homes also having the same problem, some being evacuated as far away as Texas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Roby, we know this is going to take a long time to fix, to repair the damage across the state.

    People are saying weeks, even a month or longer. What does it look like?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Yes, it is a big problem, Judy, because they have so many people that evacuated from the area.

    And because there is not enough infrastructure, they're going to have to stay away. Some people we spoke with were moving to other areas, so they could enroll their kids in school, because, at this point, it is still a big unknown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Roby Chavez reporting for us from Baton Rouge.

    Roby, thank you very much.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Thank you, Judy.

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