Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday pleaded with residents who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ida to "please don't come home" while more than a million homes and businesses in the state remain without power, warning of the daunting prospect of weeks with no electricity.
"If you have evacuated, do not return here or elsewhere in southeast Louisiana" until state emergency officials give clearance, Edwards said at a news conference. "The schools are not open. The businesses are not open. The hospitals are slammed. There's not water in your home and there's not going to be electricity."
The powerful storm, now a tropical depression threatening to produce flash flooding and tornadoes across the South and Mid-Atlantic, was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the region. While New Orleans was largely spared the catastrophic flooding that officials had feared, some communities across southern Louisiana remained cut off by water and blocked roadways, complicating rescue efforts as crews scramble to clear debris and begin the weekslong task of restoring the power grid.
The latest on Ida:
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- Ida, which weakened to a tropical depression, was crawling toward Tennessee on Tuesday about 100 miles southwest of Nashville with 30 mph winds.
- More than 71 million people are under flash flood watches from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.
- At least four deaths, two in Louisiana and two in Mississippi, were related to the storm.
- More than 1 million homes and businesses remained without power across Louisiana.
While at least four people have died across Louisiana and Mississippi in connection with Ida, Edwards cautioned the death toll may rise in the aftermath of the storm as those who hunkered down venture out. Also of concern is having no power amid a stifling summer heat that could reach close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the region for the next few days.
Edwards said the lack of air conditioning and unreliable power sources, particularly at hospitals, could be a hazardous mix.
"Now is really the most dangerous time over the next couple of weeks, and so we're asking people to be patient," he added. "We're asking people to be careful. And please be good neighbors."
Edwards said the majority of rescues in the state were located in St. John the Baptist Parish, west of New Orleans along the east bank of the Mississippi River. People had used social media to report being trapped in their attics as Ida slammed ashore Sunday and the floodwaters climbed.
Remarkably, Edwards added, there was not a single confirmed death amid the hundreds of rescues there.
Late Monday, two people were killed and 10 were injured after a 50-foot stretch of highway collapsed in George County, Mississippi, an area that had torrential rains in the past 24 hours. Three of the injured were critical, according to Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Calvin Robertson. Authorities have not identified the two people who died.
Earlier in the day, at least two deaths in Louisiana were linked to the storm: a 60-year-old man who died in Ascension Parish when a tree fell on his home, and a man who drowned after driving through a flooded road, authorities said.
Another 71-year-old Louisiana man was presumed dead after being attacked by an alligator on Monday in an area that flooded during Hurricane Ida, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office said. A woman in Slidell said her husband was walking in floodwaters around noon when he was attacked by the large alligator, the sheriff's office said.
She said she pulled him to safety and then went to get help in a boat, but when she returned, he was not on the front steps.
The weather system raked northern Mississippi early Tuesday, bringing heavy rains and the threat of floods from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and into the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. More than 71 million people were under flash flood watches from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.
The hurricane center also warned of the threat of tornadoes across eastern Alabama, western Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. As the remnants of Ida move farther north, major East Coast cities, including Washington, Philadelphia and New York, are expected to receive heavy rainfall and the threat of flash flooding Wednesday and Thursday.
Ida made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, with howling 150 mph winds on the same date that the devastating Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years earlier.
More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana remained without power for a second day on Tuesday, although Entergy, one of the region's main power utilities, said it had restored power to 85,000 customers in pockets of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Hospitals, nursing homes, fire and police departments, and water systems were "at the head of the restoration list," the company said.
Officials at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport said that there would be no flights in or out of the city on Tuesday, and there were about 200 canceled flights.
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Utility crews were working around the clock to restore power. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said that some areas will come back on in days, while others will take weeks to get back on the grid.
"The good news is that Louisiana helps our neighbors out," he said on "TODAY." "With Covid on top of this, the stress on families is incredible. It's going to be a long road and we're going to need a lot of help."
On Monday, dozens of rescue missions began across southern Louisiana to evacuate people stranded in their homes. Operations to answer the hundreds of rescue calls were hampered by inoperable 911 lines, now restored, and poor cellphone service reported throughout southeastern Louisiana.
The Louisiana National Guard activated 4,900 Guard personnel and was positioned to send nearly 200 high-water vehicles and more than 70 rescue boats and 30 helicopters. By Monday afternoon, nearly 200 people and their pets had been rescued after crews checked about 400 homes, Edwards said at a news conference.
New Orleans did not experience the same level of devastation that was caused by Katrina, the 2005 storm that breached the city's levees and led to some 1,800 deaths.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted Monday that the system of levees, which was built and designed after Katrina, "held the line" against the storm surge and the "worst case scenario did not happen."
The new levee system "performed exceptionally well," Chip Kline, the chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told NOLA.com. "The system's first real test, and it did exceptionally well."
Louisiana residents who stayed in the area throughout the storm woke up Monday to scenes of destruction. Theophilus Charles, 70, lost the home in Houma his grandmother had built.
"I ain't got a dry spot in the house. My roof fell. I lost all my clothes, my furniture, my appliances, everything," he told Reuters.
"I lost everything that I had. I mean I lost everything." Charles said. "And nothing I can do with this — ain't no repair, you know."
Louisiana's medical system, already stretched to capacity by the Covid-19 crisis, was another major cause for concern both before and after the storm hit. Four hospitals have evacuated patients, while many others are surveying damage to their buildings.
Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief of Children's Hospital New Orleans, said Tuesday that the facility was running on six generators dedicated to patient care, while nonessential areas were being left in the dark.
"The best thing I can tell you is that all of the children remained safe and sound inside the hospital throughout the hurricane, and so things are going well for our patients," Kline said on MSNBC.
The hospital had some flooding on the ground floor as well as water leaking through the roof. Kline said that he, along with much of the hospital's staff, had yet to go home to survey the damage to their own properties.
Experts are also concerned that the Louisiana's high levels of circulating coronavirus, coupled with the low vaccination rates and the forced close proximity that occurs during a storm, could set the stage for an explosion of Covid-19 cases.