Hurricane Ida knocked out all eight transmission lines that deliver power to New Orleans, leaving the entire city without electricity as the powerful storm pushed through on Sunday and early Monday with winds that reached 150 miles per hour. Some of the hardest-hit areas won’t see power restored for weeks. A look at what that means for the coastal city and its residents and businesses.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The hurricane blew ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 storm that breached New Orleans’ levees, devastated the city, and was blamed for 1,800 deaths. The office of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Ida caused “catastrophic” damage to the power grid, forcing hospitals, businesses, and private residents to rely on generators or go without refrigeration or air conditioning even as temperatures soar to close to 90 degrees. Ida was one of the strongest storms to make landfall in Louisiana and regained hurricane status nearly to Mississippi.

Officials in New Orleans and surrounding areas were encouraging people who evacuated ahead of the storm to stay away in the immediate aftermath because it remains unsafe to return amid downed power lines, flooded homes, snapped trees, and other destruction.


WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET POWER BACK?

The power company that serves the region said it could be weeks before some hard-hit areas see power restored. The power company, New Orleans-based Entergy, says it is working to provide backup power for water and sewer services, and the city says it is using its own generators at drainage pumping stations, but it’s not clear how long those efforts can sustain.

More than 11,000 Entergy workers, supplemented by 25,000 workers from at least 32 states and the District of Columbia, were working to restore power. As officials begin to assess the damage, power will be restored in a way that gets service to the greatest number of customers as safely and quickly as possible, Entergy said.

But the company faces a massive challenge. As of early Monday, 216 substations, 207 transmission lines, and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service, the company said. One transmission tower that spans the Mississippi River and had withstood Hurricane Katrina was felled during Ida, Entergy said.

Road closures, flooding, and high winds were affecting crews’ ability to reach some areas and could delay power restoration in those communities. Entergy said.

“Transmission lines are very fragile in New Orleans,″ said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, an advocacy group. The group said in a 2019 report that Entergy’s aging transmission and distribution lines, complicated by the coastal region’s lakes and wetlands, resulting in an unusual number of outages — even without extreme weather.


ECHOES OF HURRICANES PAST

Ida came ashore 16 years after Katrina and a year after Hurricane Laura wrecked southwest Louisiana, leaving Lake Charles and other communities without power for weeks. Even as Ida was bearing down on New Orleans, marks of Laura’s devastation remained evident in blue-tarped roofs, damaged homes, and boarded-up businesses that still dot the region.

Laura, which then was the most powerful storm to impact Louisiana since before the Civil War, struck the southwestern parishes on Aug. 27, 2020, as a fierce Category 4 storm. Less than two months later, Hurricane Delta swept into the same area as a Category 2. Historic flooding followed in May.

“These are lessons we have to learn over and over again,″ said Shelley Welton, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies climate change and energy law. Whether it’s a deadly freeze in Texas, a wildfire in California or a hurricane in Louisiana, “the connective thread is we need to build infrastructure to better withstand stronger storms that we know are coming″ as a consequence of climate change, she said.

‘CASCADING FAILURES’

Just as the deep freeze in Texas caused extensive suffering and death from cold, Ida will likely cause extreme suffering from excessive heat, Welton and others said. The storm also was affecting water and sewer service, cell-phone service, and even 911 service in what Welton called “cascading failures.″

In New Orleans, water and sewer officials said they lost all Entergy power, but teams were working quickly to make up for this with self-generated power sources, as well as backup generators located at drainage pumping stations.

Still, problems were being reported. The New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish was estimating it could take at least five days to restore the water system there.

With widespread cell service outages, many people were frantically trying to reach friends and relatives and were unsuccessful. Just because you can’t get reach a loved one by phone, “that does not necessarily mean that they are not OK,” said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Edwards. “We know that much of this is a communications problem.”

AT&T said Monday its wireless network in Louisiana was operating at 85% of normal, describing “significant outages” in New Orleans and Baton Rouge from power supply disruptions, flooding, and storm damages. A mobile tower was sent to the governor’s emergency preparedness office to help get their phones up and running again.

WILL CONGRESS STEP IN?

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said the catastrophe is the latest example of why his state – and the nation – need a nearly trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that was already passed by the Senate earlier this month. “New Orleans is now a case in point” of the need to harden the nation’s infrastructure and improve resiliency, the Republican told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday.

“If we’re going to make our country more resilient to natural disasters, whatever they are, we have to start preparing now,″ Cassidy said. “We can’t look in the rearview mirror and say, ‘Well I wish we were prepared.’ We’ve got to start now for next year’s hurricane, next year’s wildfire, next year’s tornado. That infrastructure package is part of that.″

The bill provides about $50 billion to protect against droughts and floods and weatherize utilities and other infrastructure. It also includes about $60 billion to upgrade the electric grid and build thousands of miles of transmission lines to expand the use of renewable energy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the House will vote on the bipartisan measure next month.

Rescuers in boats, helicopters, and high-water trucks brought hundreds of people trapped by Hurricane Ida’s floodwaters to safety Monday and utility repair crews rushed in after the furious storm swamped the Louisiana coast and ravaged the electrical grid in the stifling, late-summer heat.

Residents living amid the maze of rivers and bayous along the state’s 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.

President Joe Biden met virtually on Monday with Louisiana Gov. John Bel 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.

As the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday afternoon and continued to make its way inland with torrential rain, it was blamed for at least two deaths — a motorist who drowned in New Orleans and a person hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge.

But with many roads impassable and cellphone service out in places, the full extent of its fury was still coming into focus. Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said that given the level of destruction, “We’re going to have many more confirmed fatalities.”

The governor’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.”

Local, state, and federal rescuers combined to save at least 671 people by Monday afternoon, Edwards said.

In hard-hit LaPlace, squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, rescuers saved people from flooded homes in a near-constant operation.

Debbie Greco, her husband, and her son rode out the storm in LaPlace with Greco’s parents. Water reached a foot up the first-floor windows, then filled the first floor to 4 feet (1.2 meters) deep once the back door was opened. They retreated to the second floor, but then screaming winds collapsed the roof as waves broke in the front yard.

They were finally rescued by boat after waiting in the only dry spot, five people sharing the landing on the stairs.

“When I rebuild this I’m out of here. I’m done with Louisiana,” said Greco’s father, 85-year-old Fred Carmouche, a lifelong resident.

Elsewhere in LaPlace, people pulled pieces of chimneys, gutters and other parts of their homes to the curb, and residents of a mobile home park waded through floodwaters.

The hurricane blew ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 storm that breached New Orleans’ levees, devastated the city, and was blamed for 1,800 deaths.

This time, New Orleans appeared to escape the catastrophic flooding city officials had feared.

Stephanie Blaise returned to her home with her father in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward after evacuating. The neighborhood suffered devastating flooding in Katrina but only lost some shingles in Ida. However, with no idea when electricity would be restored, Blaise didn’t plan to stay long.

“We don’t need to go through that. I’m going to have to convince him to leave. We got to go somewhere. Can’t stay in this heat,” she said.

The city urged people who evacuated to stay away for at least a couple of days because of the lack of power and fuel. “There’s not a lot of reasons to come back,” said Collin Arnold, chief of emergency preparedness.

Also, 18 water systems serving about 255,000 customers in Louisiana were knocked out of service, the state Health Department said.

Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Officials said they were evacuating scores of patients to other cities.

The governor’s office said over 2,200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped flooded homes. The governor’s spokesperson said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so they can keep their distance from one another.

“This is a COVID nightmare,” Stephens said, adding: “We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this.”

Preliminary measurements showed Slidell, Louisiana, got at least 15.7 inches of rain, while New Orleans received nearly 14 inches, forecasters said. Other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, Alabama and Florida got 5 to 11 inches.

The Louisiana National Guard said it activated 4,900 Guard personnel and lined up 195 high-water vehicles, 73 rescue boats, and 34 helicopters. Local and state agencies were adding hundreds more. Edwards said he decided not to tour hurricane damage by air Monday to add one more aircraft to the effort.

On Grand Isle, the 40 people who stayed on the barrier island through the brunt of the hurricane gave aircraft checking on them Monday a thumbs-up, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.

The road to the island remained impassable and rescuers would try to reach them as soon as they are able, the sheriff said.

The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant tower that carries key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area, causing widespread outages, Entergy and local authorities said. The power company said more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service, along with 216 substations. The tower had survived Katrina.

The storm also flattened utility poles, toppled trees onto power lines, and caused transformers to explode.

The governor said 25,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore electricity, with more on the way. “We’re going to push Entergy to restore power just as soon as they can,” Edwards said.

AT&T said its wireless network in Louisiana was reduced to 60% of normal but was coming back. Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies. The governor’s office staff had no working phones. The company sent a mobile tower to the state’s emergency preparedness office so it could get some service.

Charchar Chaffold left her home near LaPlace for Alabama after a tree fell on it Sunday. She frantically tried to get in touch via text message with five family members who stayed behind.

She last heard from the Sunday night. They were in the attic after water rushed into their home. “They told me they thought they were going to die. I told them they are not and called for help,” she said.

Ida’s 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland. Its winds were down to 40 mph (64 kph) around midday Monday.

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, according to the National Weather Service.

Ida was expected to pick up speed Monday night before dumping rain on the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys Tuesday, the Appalachian mountain region Wednesday and the nation’s capital on Thursday.

Forecasters said flash flooding and mudslides were possible along Ida’s path before it blows out to sea over New England on Friday.

With more than 1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi having lost power, Hurricane Ida is sure to take a toll on the energy, chemical, and shipping industries that have major hubs along the Gulf Coast. But the impact on the overall U.S. economy will likely be modest so long as damage estimates don’t rise sharply and refinery shutdowns are not prolonged, economists say.

The hurricane is expected to inflict a less severe financial impact than Hurricane Katrina did 16 years ago, thanks in part to a lower storm surge and New Orleans’ improved levee system. Analysts at Boenning & Scattergood, a financial consultancy, noted that Ida’s wind field is smaller than Katrina’s, which likely narrows the area of catastrophic damage. The analysts estimated that losses for the insurance industry will hit around $10 billion, far less than the $90 billion-plus from Katrina.

Oil prices barely moved Monday as oil companies and refiners assessed any damage from the storm. The price on the New York Mercantile Exchange was flat at $68.74 per barrel. Gasoline futures rose 1.2%.

Still, Ida, which tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland, left so many customers without electricity that any prolonged power outage could have repercussions, at least temporarily, for the oil, natural gas, and chemical companies that have operations along the gulf. The longer power remains out, the longer those companies will struggle to restart their operations.

Fewer than 2 million barrels a day of production in the Gulf of Mexico — slightly more than 15% of normal output — is shut down. Yet the disruptions aren’t expected to immediately affect the availability of gasoline nationally because of ample fuel reserves in the system. The U.S. Energy Department announced plans a week ago to sell up to 20 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest sale this year from the federal emergency pool of oil.

“There is a lot of crude oil that could backfill for some of these losses,” said Richard Joswick, an oil analyst with S&P Global Platts.

Refineries with a combined capacity of 2.2 million barrels a day were offline Monday, Joswick said, but it could have been far worse: Up to 4 million barrels a day might have had to be turned off had the storm tracked just slightly westward.

“That said, they don’t have power,” he added. “If you don’t have power, you can’t run a refinery.”

For now, the ports of Baton Rouge, Gramercy, and Morgan City in Louisiana and the Port of Pascagoula, Mississippi are all closed. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has also suspended operations. The Port of New Orleans was closed but reported that “initial reports indicate no major damage to our facilities.”

Early indications are that refineries along the Gulf Coast were spared the magnitude of damage they suffered during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which caused flooding that inundated several refineries in the Houston area.

Yet Jacques Rousseau, an analyst for Clearview Energy Partners, cautioned that “we need to wait a little longer to see if there is some sort of extensive damage that could take a refinery out for more than just a shutdown-and-restart period.”

Over the weekend, Phillips 66 closed a refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, and Exxon Mobil began shutting down production at a refinery in Baton Rouge. On Monday, an Exxon spokeswoman said the refinery didn’t suffer significant damage and would begin restoring normal operations once the company knows it will have raw materials and power.

All of New Orleans lost power on Sunday evening as the hurricane barreled ashore. Local officials warned that it could take weeks to fully restore power. As the storm approached, offshore oil production in the Gulf was nearly entirely shut down, and crews were evacuated as a precaution.

The hurricane and the resulting disruptions to offshore production and onshore refining are occurring just as demand for gasoline and other fuels is likely to decline, as it typically does in September and October. That trend, if it holds, could lessen the storm’s effect on prices.

Most natural disasters cause little overall damage to the $23 trillion U.S. economy. Even the hardest-hit regions often recover quickly, thanks to all the money typically spent on rebuilding from the destruction.

Still, New Orleans’ job market never regained its strength after Hurricane Katrina. In July 2005, the month before the hurricane struck, its metropolitan area had more than 620,000 jobs. It lost 185,000 in September and October that year as people fled the flooded city. Many never returned.

Since then, New Orleans’ recovery has been disrupted by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and COVID-19, which crushed an economy that depends on tourists. In July, New Orleans had 530,000 jobs, down nearly 15% from its level before Katrina. Over the same period, employment across the United States has risen 9%.

Between Ida and a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant, the outlook for New Orleans’ fall tourism season has turned from hopeful to bleak.

“We’re on a long road to recovery,” said D.J. Johnson, who owns the New Orleans Art Bar and the Baldwin & Co. bookstore, both of which sustained water damage from Ida. “We’ve just been hit very, very hard in New Orleans.’’

Bread on Oak, a New Orleans bakery, will open Tuesday, but only so the owners, Sean and Chamain O’Mahony, can cook up ingredients on a propane grill outdoors. They hope to save at least some of the food that would spoil in refrigerators without electricity.

The O’Mahonys are bracing for a hefty bill once they have to restock everything. And they worry about getting their 30 employees, who are dispersed and without electricity for now, back to work. Sean expects to lose some of them to better-paying jobs working on crews that will be making post-Ida repairs around the city.

Though such personal losses are many, Adrienne Slack, a vice president at the New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, called the overall preliminary damage reports “favorable.”

“The levee structures are much improved since (Katrina), and they held up very well,” Slack said. “We’re not looking at a city that will be underwater for three weeks.”

She cautioned that the damage assessments will take time and that the local economy can’t return to life until electricity is flowing again.

Cellphone service was severely disrupted by the storm. T-Mobile said its network was operating at only 70% of capacity in Louisiana and Alabama. AT&T said it was running at 60% of capacity in Louisiana.

On a national scale, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the disruptions caused by Ida will likely lead him to downgrade his forecast for annual U.S. economic growth in the current July-September quarter by a few tenths of a percentage point. But that economic loss, Zandi said, could be reversed in the final quarter of the year as a result of the rebuilding from the hurricane’s damage that will likely follow.

Analysts at Citi Investment Research agreed that any drag on growth will likely be offset by subsequent reconstruction. They said, though, that “inflationary effects may be more persistent as demand for building materials, autos and workers will confront already existing shortages.”

“The key channel for Ida to impact the broader economy is through energy prices,” Zandi said. “We will have to see how much damage occurred to production in the Gulf and how long that production will stay offline.”

“The worst-case scenario is Ida might add 10 cents to 20 cents to the price of a gallon of gas through September,” he said. But he suggested that the increase in pump prices might last for only a few weeks.

Likewise, Joswick, the analyst with S&P Global Platts, foresees nothing like the jump in pump prices that occurred after Katrina, when the average retail price jumped more than 70 cents in just over a week, according to government figures.

“This is a much more modest event,” he said “We’ll likely recover in a week or two.”

Robert Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University, said he worries that disruptions at petrochemical plants will cut off supplies to plastics factories, which are still struggling to rebound from a February deep freeze in Texas and from supply-chain bottlenecks.

“They’re already behind where they should be,” Handfield said. “The inventories are pretty scarce.’’

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