Nearly a week without electricity, New Orleans faces a “race with the clock”

NEW ORLEANS – When Stephanie Crier walked out of her apartment in New Orleans last week after crouching for Hurricane Ida, she was relieved to find that the storm had neither flooded the city nor left any catastrophic destruction on par with Hurricane Katrina. But since then, things have only gotten worse.

His house has been without electricity for almost a week. Trying to fall asleep in the heat is torture, said Ms. Crier, 60, and she had to get up and bathe in cold water in the dark just to get through the night.

As forecasters warned dangerously high temperatures over the weekend, Ms Crier worried about taking care of her 81-year-old mother and returning to her apartment after finding a brief refuge with a friend.

“It’s a little unbearable,” Ms. Crier said. as she sat in a folding chair in a gymnasium the city had converted into an air-conditioned cooling center. “If I could find a place to really lie down and stretch, I could sleep all day and not wake up until the next day.”

Almost a week after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, the city of New Orleans is wasting away in relentless heat. About 70 percent of the city’s electricity customers had no electricity for a sixth consecutive day on Saturday. Many gas stations and convenience stores are closed. Piles of neglected garbage are cooking in the streets. Amid it all, the sun kept beating down, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees each of the past four days and the heat index hitting 103. The number of visitors to the cooling center Ms Crier visited on Saturday nearly quadrupled. between Wednesday and Friday.

“We’re definitely seeing more desperation on the streets,” said Nate Mook, who runs World Central Kitchen, a disaster relief charity. which distributes 25,000 meals a day in and around New Orleans.

Entergy, the ailing utility company that supplies electricity to much of Louisiana, has pledged to restore power to nearly all New Orleans residents by Wednesday, which would be 10 days after many people’s lights went out.

But local officials said each passing day made the situation worse.

“As we get to this point five or six days later, we start to see older and vulnerable populations – the heat is starting to have an impact,” said Collin Arnold, director of the emergency preparedness agency of the New Orleans. “It’s kind of a race with the clock.”

About 500 people were evacuated to shelters with electricity in central and northern Louisiana on Saturday. A 250-bed federal medical facility opened at the New Orleans Convention Center to provide relief to nearby hospitals, which were too strained by Covid-19 patients to accommodate people battling the heat.

Many New Orleans residents have made it a habit to sit on their porch or front porch all day, spraying hoses and moving chairs across the street every few hours to follow the shadows. When the city turns dark each evening around 8 p.m., many stay out for the breeze, with children playing with flashlights on the sidewalks while parents fan themselves out and wonder out loud with neighbors when the power will be on. restored.

Many are in urgent need of help. Ms Crier said the store near her was charging $ 5 for a bag of ice cream and that she worried about how long she could keep food in her cooler. She works as a dealership manager at the Superdome, the stadium where the New Orleans Saints play, but the team moved their opener to Florida on September 12 due to the storm.

At the cooling center, Ms Crier waited to meet with employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the $ 500 in relief fund the agency is giving to some storm survivors, but she was told she was not eligible. She had planned to use the money to leave town and find a hotel – with electricity and air conditioning – for herself and her mother.

Without electricity, the storm made gas hard to find, hampering supply chains that provide aid to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

John Proctor, Director of Food Service at New Orleans Mission, said the charity was spending more than $ 1,000 a day just on fuel to power generators at its three sites, where it houses more than 300 people. Every day a team travels to Mississippi to load tanks of diesel fuel and gas, he said.

“We are still a few days away from power,” said Mr. Proctor. “We’re in dire straits, the whole New Orleans metro area – the lack of electricity, the smell of garbage.”

Nearby, under US Highway 90, on the edge of the city’s Warehouse District, the roar of motorcycles and cars echoes through a makeshift neighborhood of dozens of tents, mattresses and blankets. Many of those who lived under the freeway did so for months before the hurricane, and although they said some things stayed the same – there were no air conditioners or refrigerators to waste – there are also had marked differences.

Shops and bus stops where people used the toilets are now closed, and the city has not cleaned up the portable toilets under the freeway which are now full of trash. And in the days following the storm, many generous citizens and church workers who regularly dropped off food couldn’t reach them.

Pastor Joycelyn Santee, who regularly drops supplies for residents here, said she was unable to return to the area under the bridge for several days after the storm because her home lost power and she had to take care of her own family. But she was determined to return, and she and her team arrived on Saturday with trunks full of toilet paper, ice packs, toothpaste, deodorant, food and more.

“We are doing everything we can,” Ms. Santee said. “This is what we do.”

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