It will take at least six weeks to return power to a large section of Louisiana's coast because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Ida, Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Director Joe Valiente told NPR on Monday.
"Damage is incredible" from what was a Category 4 storm, Valiente said, describing hundreds of trees that crashed onto power lines, houses and streets after being uprooted by Ida's strong winds.
"There are about 10 parishes that the electrical grids are completely collapsed and damaged, smashed, out — however you want to put it," he added in an interview with NPR's A Martínez.
Jefferson Parish is now under a mandatory curfew through 6 a.m. CT Tuesday.
🚨 If you evacuated before Hurricane #Ida, we request that you DO NOT RETURN until further notice. There are power outages, debris, hazards & damages. 🚨— Jefferson Parish (@JeffParishGov) August 30, 2021
The damage to the area includes a main electricity tower that collapsed into the Mississippi River, severing a crucial link between supply stations and five parishes, Valiente said. The Coast Guard has halted river traffic near the tower until a salvage operation can pull a tangle of power lines out of the water.
In another calamity, a barge, a tugboat and a 100-foot trawler all struck a bridge, which will now likely have to be scrapped, he said, adding that all three vessels sank.
"This was far more extensive than I think" the experts were warning, Valiente said.
One bit of good news, he added, was that the region's levee system held up well, with only minor problems.
Jefferson Parish stretches from Lake Pontchartrain to Grand Isle in the coastal area where Ida made landfall with 150-mph winds around midday Sunday.
"Virtually every person that we've spoken to in Metairie, in Jefferson Parish, has sustained considerable roof damage," Valiente said.
Emergency rescue and recovery teams are now using high-water vehicles and other equipment to check on people who weathered the storm.
"They will be going door to door and checking to see if anyone's there, what they find — exactly what we did during Katrina [16 years earlier]," Valiente said.
This story originally published in the Morning Edition liveblog.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Joining us this morning from Jefferson Parish, La., is Director of Emergency Management Joe Valiente. Joe, what kind of damage are you dealing with so far?
JOE VALIENTE: Good morning, A. It's good to be talking to you. Thank you for this opportunity for us to get this message out. So right now, the weather's finally subsided to the point where we're getting ready to send out our post-damage assessment teams. And we've already organized the search and rescue for the Lafitte area and Grand Isle.
And we - I'm happy to announce that Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office is now back online and answering calls. State police has now formed their post-damage assessment team. They're driving the area and along the interstates and determining what the overall damage is. We have one major hospital, Ochsner Hospital, which has requested water because we've lost water pressure in Jefferson Parish. And EMS and fire are back on active-duty status, and they are handling calls. So things are starting to go - get back to normal as it relates to the recovery process.
MARTINEZ: Joe, what kind of damage are you seeing out there?
VALIENTE: Damage is incredible. We lost a tremendous amount of water pressure due to trees that were being uprooted and - on both the east and west bank, so we have no water pressure now. And 100% of power outages - which was mentioned a moment ago - in New Orleans and in Metairie. We have hundreds of trees that have been uprooted and knocked down - some on houses, some blocking streets. Virtually every person that we've spoken to in Metairie and Jefferson Parish have sustained considerable roof damage.
We also have numerous collapsed structures in both residential, business and schools. We had a bridge in Lafitte that was struck by a tugboat, a barge and a 100-foot trawler, of which all three vessels sank, and the bridge was knocked off its pin. Department of Transportation and Development feels that the bridge will, in all likelihood, have to be scrapped.
We lost Energy Tower, which was a main feeder for five parishes - collapsed under what we think is heavy wind. The structural integrity of the tower weakened. It kind of twisted, according to the photographs, and then fell toward the river. And so the river traffic has been halted by the Coast Guard until the salvage operation to remove those power lines is completed. I heard...
MARTINEZ: I wanted to ask you about - I know you lost communication with a group of firefighters who were in Grand Isle. That's a narrow barrier island inside Jefferson Parish. Have you heard from them at all so far this morning?
VALIENTE: Yeah, we have. They're OK.
MARTINEZ: OK, good.
VALIENTE: They had some limited cellular service. What happened is the island was inundated with almost 15 feet of water. The generator power failed, and so their radios and phones eventually failed. But they are safe. They were on a third-floor concrete area of the multiplex, which is your civic center, and they're fine. We just can't get to them right now. But there were 30 residents on the island, and we don't know what the status of those individuals are at this time.
MARTINEZ: Thirty - were they someone that just didn't want to leave and wanted to ride it out?
VALIENTE: It was simply people that refused to leave. That's common in that lower Jefferson Parish area. These are people who are extremely resilient, extremely independent, and they've seen dozens and dozens of hurricanes come their way - come and go - and they're just a very tough-minded people.
MARTINEZ: So right now then how difficult would it be to get to someone there that needed help?
VALIENTE: Well, two days ago, we staged a battery of high-water vehicles. And there's a three-man - a three-agency team - the Louisiana Air National Guard, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, and the West Bank Fire Service - volunteer firemen - will be going out in just a while, and they will be going door to door and checking on - to see if anyone's there, what they find, exactly what we did during Katrina. I was on the ground with the New Orleans Police Department with Katrina. So we're going to go basically, you know, similar - door to door, knock on, take a look inside, make sure the resident is - residence is empty, mark it and then move to the next one. And then if there are any survivors, they'll be rescued and taken to a shelter. If there are any fatalities, those fatalities will be marked and another team will come in and remove the remains and bring it to the coroner's office.
MARTINEZ: On those power outages you mentioned, any idea when the power might come back?
VALIENTE: We know that there's literally - it was a good term - catastrophic. It's - 100% of the grid is smashed. We have report of hundreds of telephone poles that snapped, hundreds of reports of trees that fell on power lines and just ripped them out. We are estimating six weeks and that's just based on numbers...
MARTINEZ: Six weeks, you said? Six weeks?
VALIENTE: That's based on numbers that Energy gave us that if a given area is hit with a Cat 5 hurricane or a Cat 4 hurricane, that it would take an excess of 24 days. So this was far more extensive than I think what they even thought. And the problem here - quickly - is that New Orleans was - their system was severely damaged. St. Bernard's infrastructure was seriously damaged from an electrical grid standpoint of view. Plaquemines Parish, St. Charles Parish, St. John's Parish, Terrebonne, Lafourche - there are about 10 parishes that their electrical grids are completely collapsed and damaged, smashed - however you want to put it.
MARTINEZ: Hey, Joe, really quick, the levees - how are they holding up? I only got a few seconds left.
VALIENTE: The levees in the - within the levee protection system held up well.
MARTINEZ: Oh, good.
VALIENTE: We didn't have any issues. We did have one levee in Plaquemines Parish that failed. It was a smaller levee. We haven't received the details on that because it failed later - late last night. And we had a very, very small levee fail in the Lafitte, but that was really a moot point because it was only a 7-foot levee and they took 10 feet of water.
MARTINEZ: Good. That's Joe Valiente, director for Emergency Management in Jefferson Parish, La. Joe, thanks a lot. Stay safe.
VALIENTE: Thank you, A.
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